Sinister (Summit Entertainment, R)

sinister 75It’s about the inherent creepiness of being the only one up late at night, sitting in your house and hearing a slight creak.

 

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October is my favorite time of year. Part of that is simply the weather and the fact that the changing colors of leaves are lovely. But the main reason is because of Halloween, when everyone suddenly decides that they like horror movies. Each year brings a new batch of horror releases, and with them, comes some inevitable disappointment. I figured Sinister would probably be one of those forgettable titles like recently released movies The Apparition, The Possession, or The House at the End of the Street, but I was pleasantly surprised. While I can’t say Sinister is anything transcendent, it is certainly a very solid entry in the genre.

Ethan Hawke plays a washed-up true crime author who had one big hit years ago, and has been desperately trying to recreate that success ever since. He forces his family to move into a house which, unbeknownst to them, is the setting for his latest grisly subject matter. The previous family who lived there had been hung from a tree in the back yard. Whilst investigating his new home, Hawke finds a box with an 8mm film projector and a series of home movies that depict horrific crimes, including the murder of the original family.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the scenes of Hawke watching the films brought back strong memories of the Joel Schumacher crapfest 8MM, which can only undermine the tension of these scenes. That said, these 8mm films are legitimately creepy and well done. What I really liked was that they portrayed horrific, brutal events without ever getting too carried away with the gore. They feel grimy and real, but never exploitative.

If you’ve seen the trailer or the poster or most other horror films, you know that there is a demon of some sort involved in all of these murders. It’s a very obscure demon, one the filmmakers seem very proud of themselves for knowing about. He’s creepy, but nothing particularly special. What I liked was that all the videos have a very real-world feel to them, so even if you aren’t particularly frightened by the supernatural, there is still plenty to unnerve you.

I’ve pretty much been singing this movie’s praises, but I have to call out that there is something wrong with the dialogue scenes in the movie—specifically the mundane, family-at-the-dinner-table scenes. They feel stilted and weird. Part of that may be the performances; part of it is definitely the editing, which feels ridiculously fast paced and choppy. This is very disappointing, because in the suspense sequences, shots linger and float through the house á la The Shining or Halloween. I don’t know whether to blame the director, the editor, or the actors, so I blame everyone. The scenes between the horror are what keep this from being a really impressive film.

One interesting thing about Sinister is that it was co-written by C. Robert Cargill, an internet critic who in the past has written for sites such as Ain’t it Cool News. With this and V/H/S, which was produced in association with the horror site Bloody Disgusting, we seem to be entering a new era where online critics and fanboys are slowly entering the arena and actually participating in the creative process. As usual, horror is leading the way. V/H/S didn’t work for me, but it did for a lot of other people. The movie geek voice comes through in Sinister, with a few lines sounding a bit more postmodern than they probably should. But it’s fun, especially when those lines go to James Ransone, who played the obnoxious Ziggy on The Wire, but who is enjoyable here as a deputy who helps out Hawke’s character.

Sinister isn’t a great movie. The title alone is really bland and instantly forgettable. Like I said, some of the more mundane scenes falter, but the core suspense aspects work very well. For the most part, it avoids gore and cheap jump scares, instead focusing on atmosphere and insinuation. It’s about the inherent creepiness of being the only one up late at night, sitting in your house and hearing a slight creak. It’s another solid entry in what looks like the best weekend for movie releases in quite some time. | Sean Lass

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