Sinister (2012)

True crime novelist Ellison Osborne (Ethan Hawke) has lied to his family… and it’s a BIG lie. His first novel sold fantastically well but his later works failed to catch the spirit of the first, so as a last resort he decided to move his wife and two kids into the home of a family who’d been horribly murdered. But he ‘neglected’ to inform his family of this. Liar!

Unfortunately for Ellison, this unsolved ‘true crime’ isn’t a normal one. The family’s daughter went missing and Ellison finds a box of Super 8 reels in the attic… which show the deaths of other families at the hands of an unseen enemy.

Instead of going to the police – who loathe Ellison because his previous books represent them as incompetent – Ellison begins investigating this potential serial-murderer all by himself. But something is wrong with this footage… and something is even more wrong with the house.

As he begins delving into the history of these killings he slowly unveils a horrible truth that is as terrifying as it is unbelievable.

Sinister is very well made and bloody scary. It has some flaws and a number of annoying horror tropes, but it’s effective, well acted and surprisingly funny in places. We’ll kick off with the negative issues…

There are a few of the expected tropes present here, namely some ridiculous jump-scares, an aging professor who has all the answers and the ‘shit dad’.

Shit dad? Yep. I have mentioned in previous reviews about the depiction of men in horror and Sinister unfortunately compounds this. In Insidious, Paranormal Activity 1 and Paranormal Activity 2 the women are always grounded and sensible and the men horrendously selfish. In Sinister we have Ellison Osborne, a man so deeply selfish he moves his entire family into a horrible crime-scene AND DOESN’T TELL THEM.

Luckily Ethan Hawke plays the crappy husband with some modicum of charm and humour, unlike Micah Sloat, Brian Boland and Patrick Wilson, who are all selfish bastards. Yes, there are reasons (sometimes) behind these self-centred, cynical men, but it is beginning to get tiresome when they crop up in every supernatural haunted-house movie!

For those who haven’t watched a gazillion horror films in the past few years, then this might not be as frustrating as it was for me, but this was another ‘shit husband & awesomely patient wife’ combo too far for this reviewer.

Enough of the negatives! What’s great about it? Well, Sinister is brilliantly acted by everyone involved, especially Ethan Hawke, who does a surprisingly good job of making a likeable character out of Ellison Osbourne.

James Ransone has to get a mention here, as he plays the hilarious Deputy who helps out Ellison. Recognisable as Ziggy Sobotka from HBO’s The Wire (amongst a plethora of other roles), Ransome gives the much needed element of humour to an otherwise nerve-shredding horror. It’s what was missing from the likes of Paranormal Activity and Ransome’s interaction with Hawke is exceptional. Sinister is much better off for having this character and writers Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill did well to include him.

Derrickson also directs and he does a decent job. It’s nothing amazing but certainly better than his previous efforts, which include Hellraiser Inferno, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Day The Earth Stood Still.

Derrickson at least ensures Sinister is punctuated with scares throughout, alongside some very memorable images. He occasionally tips into the ridiculous or cliché, although (to be fair) it’s hard not to do this considering how packed the haunted-house genre is nowadays.

Sinister is a well-made, slick little horror film with some excellent performances and a decent sense of humour. For horror aficionados it might seem a little tired and expected, but for newcomers it will be bloody terrifying. Sinister is surprisingly good.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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