"Sinister" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
For the past 50 years, possession movies have been huge in the horror genre, terrifying fans with films like "The Exorcist" or "Insidious". However, I would say one of the most disturbing possession films, and in all honesty, one of the scariest films of all time, is Scott Derrickson's 2012 picture, "Sinister". With terrifying imagery, unexpected jump-scares, and a horrifying villain, Derrickson does almost everything right in this film, delivering a genuinely terrifying film that will scare and disturb anyone brave enough to view it.
The movie opens up with a Super-8 film, showing a family of four with bags around their heads and nooses on their necks. The nooses are attached to a tree branch, which is being held in place by a larger part of the tree weighing it down. However, a power saw, moving by itself, starts chopping off the weight of the tree, allowing the brach to rise and hang all of the family members. That tree is in the backyard of the house that writer Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) and his family have just moved into.
Ellison is a famous true-crime novelist, and he is hoping to document the grisly murder of the previous family in a new book. During his stay at the house, he starts to notice Super-8 family films, with unsuspecting titles, that actually turn out to be documentation of graphic murders of multiple families where the youngest child has gone missing. Not only is Ellison tasked with writing this new book to save his career, but he must now confront a much darker and sinister force that he definitely wasn't expecting when moving into this new house.
Let me start by saying this - this film is definitely not meant for non-horror fans or those of the faint of heart. Even from the very opening scene, this movie takes the viewer on a sickening and disturbing rollercoaster, with horrifying jump scares and nightmare-inducing imagery that will stick with the viewer days after viewing it. Derrickson was able to take the fears most people have, and completely exploit them on the screen, which I think he does an excellent job in.
The scenes where Ellison watches the Super-8 home videos are probably the most disturbing and hard to watch, yet as a viewer, you just can't peel your eyes away from the screen. It's like you are being forced to endure the horror of these videos, including a family being drown in a pool and a family, including a young boy, having their throats slit while sleeping. Believe me, it's even worse than what you can imagine while reading this.
At the same time, Derrickson is able to craft these fantastic and perfectly-timed jump scares that will easily startle anybody who watches it. They are so unexpected and right in your face that it seems almost suffocating after a while. For modern horror, many jump scares can be easily expected and the viewer can hide their eyes because they know it's coming. In this case, however, there is no preparing for what is about to happen in front of your eyes, especially during the incredibly dark segments of the film.
The one thing this movie lacks is the acting performances or the character appeal. Hawke gives a good performance, as well as James Ransone, who plays the town's deputy that helps Ellison. But, the actors that play Ellison's wife and son, Juliet Rylance and Michael Hall D'Addario respectively, are very fake and forced. It's hard not to laugh at some of the scenes they are in, and it kind of ruins the horror aspect whenever they are on the screen. In addition to this, none of the characters, except Ransone's character, are particularly likable or enjoyable. They all are very selfish and only care about what benefits them, which makes them extremely hard characters to like or want to make it out of the house alive.
In many aspects, this movie is perhaps one of the best horror films in modern times. This is a genuine horror movie that relies on numerous scares and tactics to terrify the audience. However, it falters throughout the story and character development at times, which is a tad disappointing. If the story was more tight and the characters were more enjoyable, I think this could have been one of the best horror films ever made.
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