The horror genre has unfortunately become known for its jump "scares" and loud sound effects. While these techniques may startle some audiences in the theater, they don't have any long-lasting effects, yet they have become implanted within these genre pictures. Every now and then, we're surprised with a movie that manages to be genuinely scary. Sinister is one of those movies that will leave haunting images in your mind before going to bed that night. While it isn't the complete package, this is an effective horror film that will leave you feeling uncomfortable.
Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a struggling true-crime novelist, who begins to write about a slain family by moving his own family into the house where the deaths occurred. He hopes to find what the police have overlooked and uncover the truth. The local sheriff isn't very pleased with him being in town, since he writes about how they miss a lot of key pieces of evidence. However, the Deputy (James Ransone) is a big fan of Ellison's novels and begins to help him with his research. Ellison spends most of his time trying to find out the truth, but it ultimately puts his family on the very dangerous path of a supernatural entity.
The filmmakers attempt to make the protagonist someone we would want to root for, but he isn't very smart. Any normal person would report a box filled with reels of recorded homicides to the police. While he clearly has personal reasons for not turning in such evidence, they aren't entirely explained. We're never told what really happened with his previous book that took such an emotional toll on him and his family, which is a bit frustrating when the topic is continuously brought up. Viewers must have a suspension of disbelief throughout this movie, otherwise a lot of the plot developments won't make very much sense. As far as the story itself goes, a quick synopsis makes Sinister sound like a generic supernatural flick, but there's more to it. This isn't a story of a family being haunted by a ghost or a demon. Instead, it introduces something much more interesting. Before everything for this family truly goes downhill, there's a fantastic build-up. The film reels that Ellison watches become more and more disturbing. Instead of being all-out grotesque, they deliver some truly spine-chilling material that will have you feeling very uncomfortable. The more you learn about this paranormal entity, the more unsettling its story becomes.
While Sinister is quite scary when it wants to be, it tends to rely on hokey jump "scares" that will probably alarm you, but it doesn't work nearly as well as the creepy and suspenseful build-up. Get ready for a lot of creaks and bangs around the house as the protagonist slowly walks around the house to investigate the source of strange sounds. Regardless, writer/director Scott Derrickson will have you overlooking its unimaginative jarring sounds with his use of the terrifying film reels that contain hidden meanings. Derrickson is able to present all of this dark subject matter without watering it down or being overly grotesque. He allows a lot of the material to resonate in the minds of his audiences, which is much scarier than anything that could be put on screen.
The characterizations might not be great, but the acting isn't bad. Ethan Hawke is convincing as Ellison Oswalt. Even though Ellison makes some outright stupid decisions, Hawke makes the emotional struggle believable. Juliet Rylance is good as his wife, Tracy. She only gets screen time in between Ellison's research, but she's solid as their lives begin to unravel and all of her feelings start to pour out. James Ransone isn't a bad Deputy. This could have easily become an unbelievably tacky role, but he delivers an appropriate amount of comic relief to settle our nerves every once in a while, which is most certainly welcome amidst the terror.
The atmosphere can really affect the way a film is conveyed to its audience. In Sinister, it compliments everything this movie is trying to accomplish. While the footage on the murder reels are disturbing enough, it's even more eerie that is all you hear during these sequences is the clicking and ticking of the Super-8 projector, giving them a realistic quality. The electronic score delivers a similarly creepy tone. Kudos to Christopher Young for transforming generic "bump-in-the-night" moments into something of merit. The entity itself looks frightening. It doesn't show itself very often, as it's only revealed when absolutely appropriate. Keeping its appearances at a minimum makes it even scarier.
This isn't a perfect horror film, but fans of the genre looking for something scary this Halloween have found what they have been searching for. Sinister has its flaws that make themselves known. Some of the plot points don't make any sense, while others aren't even explained. Nevertheless, this film is able to be genuinely scary when it wants to be, which is a difficult feat. Some scenes from this movie will haunt you even after the credits are done rolling. Most of Sinister's issues root from the screenplay, as a bunch of the jump "scares" are tacky and the characters could use work, but it's a horror film. Enjoy it for what it is. This is an effective genre film that will truly creep you out and make you feel uncomfortable, which is difficult to find in a horror film these days. Recommended.