Sinister – It’s Not Shit
But, you know, the malcontent thing.
So I’m gonna say it definitively this time: my search for a fabulous horror movie is over.
Let a new search begin!
TL;DR It’s like someone saw Paranormal Activity and Insidious and decided “Let’s do that. But at the same time and better.” And they did. The jump scares actually work, the tropes are both invoked and subverted, and the killing is goriously (gore + gloriously? You get it) indiscriminate. 4 out of 5 stars.
The plot tracks Ethan Hawke, a true crime writer who’s chasing a bestseller to revive his flagging career. He moves his wife and 2 kids (without their knowledge) into the former home of a girl who went missing at the same time her family was massacred. Through a magical (no, really) box of home movies that Ethan finds in the attic, he discovers a decades-old trail of horrific murder sprees. And a demon. Ethan eventually falls right into the demon’s trap, and his daughter is possessed and kills everyone.
Sinister’s real strength comes from the home movies that Ethan watches. They’re used frequently, and they’re pretty scary stuff. The film reveals that the videos were recorded by the possessed children, who were brutally slaughtering their families. And Sinister doesn’t really hold back on them, either. The only real gory discretion shots come in the lawnmower massacre video, but it’s still fucking disgustingly clear what’s going on. Ethan’s reaction (he’d been pretty blasé up until that point) sells it, too.
I’m most impressed that Sinister was able to put a refreshing spin on the handheld horror movie: by placing it within a horror movie.
Why I DON’T hate this movie:
The Insidious parallels come from the demon stuff, the kid with sleeping problems, and, most effectively, Ethan’s eventual approach to fixing the situation: moving. I was glad when Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson packed their shit up and moved in Insidious, and I’m happy to see it used again here.
And, like in Insidious, it doesn’t work. But Sinister subverts it much harder, because instead of being merely ineffective, moving house is in fact what triggers the demon to possess the child and murder the family. But it doesn’t feel cheap to cop out and have everybody die/get stolen by a demon. The plot naturally led there, and while the twist was shocking, it wasn’t a bullshit ass-pull.
Ethan Hawke does a good job at being an abrasively unlikeable protagonist. He’s an alcoholic glory chaser who intentionally puts his family at inconvenience (and unintentionally in grave danger) just to desperately cling to his fading chance at publishing immortality. The only person who gets along with him is a starstruck deputy. Yet he manages to make the right decision in the end. It’s futile, because that’s what the demon wanted all along, but I’ll give him points for trying.
The home movie massacres were delicious. There’s the opening one of the current house’s family being hanged simultaneously. The other ones are a family getting burnt alive in a car, a family having their throats slit while they’re sleeping (and we get to see most of it. Juicy), a family strapped to deck chairs getting drowned. And my favourite, the “lawnmower over the face” one. There is a disappointing lack of lawnmower in horror movies, don’t you think?
Best line goes to Ethan, who is talking to the deputy about how he hasn’t told his wife about the house’s past:
Deputy: “Oh man, that is a conversation I would not want to be around for.”
Ethan: “Me neither.”
Avoiding your problems is the only way to live.
Vincent D’Onofrio gets a few brief scenes as an occult professor to deliver the required exposition. I preferred Trial By Jury, myself, but it’s good to see him still getting work.
The jump scares are perfect. That’s the way they should be.
Ethan tries to destroy the tapes, but they magically appear unharmed when they move back to their old house. Creepilicious.
Oh, and the combative sheriff stops Ethan and his family for speeding when they’re trying to hightail it outta the house/neighbourhood. When Ethan tells him there won’t be a book anymore, the sheriff lets him go so he can fuck off. What a pal.
Reasons to hate:
Their old house is a fucking castle, though. Like, I’m not even kidding. What the fuck? Virtually unemployed writers don’t live in castles. They live in their parents’ basements. Not that I’d know anything about that.
Ethan and his wife have a huge fight about the situation near the end of the movie, and both sides are selfish and stupid. Ethan, naturally, wants to keep digging so he can write his book and earn that sweet, sweet ego stroke (and money). The wife has a whinge that basically relies upon how she feeeeeeeels. Shut up, both of you.
The demonic children look a bit too cartoonish. It softens the impact of the ending.
Ethan investigates a strange noise at one point. Dumbass.
The son’s night terrors turn out to be an arbitrary red herring (the daughter is the one who gets possessed). For an otherwise up-front and honest horror movie, that was jarring.
A bit miffed that we don’t get to see the daughter take an axe to Ethan and co.
Oh, and Ethan wears a fucking cardigan with elbow patches. You know how college professors do that with jackets? Yeah, it looks bloody ridiculous on a cardigan. Are you Hanna?
It’s hella creepy, the violence is intense but tasteful, and the twist isn’t totally obvious or completely absurd. So you know the sequel is gonna suck. But as for this one? It’s not shit. 4 out of 5 stars.