Sinister, by Cameron J. Czaja

I’ve mentioned in a previous review (It: Chapter 2 maybe?) that I became more of a fan of horror films during the 2010s.  One film in particular that unintentionally grew my interest in the genre is the 2012 film Sinister. That reason I was interested in that film is because of one person in particular, writer C. Robert Cargill. I discussed this writer before in my review for Doctor Strange along with director/writer Scott Derrickson who directed Sinister as well. Aside from those two people, the trailer itself was interesting and it did have the potential to be a truly scary movie. Did it live up to the potential? As usual, let’s find out and also some minor spoilers ahead.

In Sinister we follow Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawk), a famous true crime writer who hasn’t had a big hit in a while. Hoping to score big on his next project, he and his family move into a house where a family was hung in their backyard and a little girl from that family is now missing. Right from the get go, Ellison knew this writing project would be a challenge because not only did he not tell his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) about this murder home, but the sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson) is already on meeting him right when he was moving him. The sheriff has a bone to pick with Ellison because his work makes the police look bad and unprofessional, and he fears that Ellison will do the same in his town. Acknowledging his lack of support from the sheriff and the police department still, Ellison continues to unpack and while he puts stuff up in the attic he finds a box full of super 8 movies along with a projector. Hoping that they are clues for his book, he decides to start watching one titled “family hanging out” where it shows the previous owners of house being hung in their backyard. This immediately disturbs Ellison and yet despite this he continues to watch more of these super 8 movies that feature more family deaths. He does so in order to figure out why this is happening. Little does he know that in these home movies there is a mysterious figure in the background who is actually watching Ellison as he slowly grows more terrified the more he views them. 

Is Sinister the best horror film I’ve seen? Unfortunately, it’s not, however I can say with full confidence that is one of the scariest films I’ve seen. I apologize in advance if that seems hyperbolic, but even after being exposed to other films in the horror genre in the past eight years, this still is a film that still freaks me out every time I watch it. 

What makes Sinister a truly horrifying film is the atmosphere it sets up. Just the first scene alone, which features the previous family that lived in the house where this film takes place getting hung sets the tone for the rest. Every film that Ellison watches has a sense of dread and you’re pulled in with him as he continues to watch them. Just thinking about it as I’m writing this review has me disturbed and has my skin crawling. Another big contributor to this is the music featured in this film. It’s not really frightening in the beginning when Ellison and his family move in, but once the super 8 films start playing that’s when the sense of dread kicks in. I could just listen to this soundtrack at home in the dark and I still would freak myself out, which I may or not have done in the past. I find it kind of amazing that eight years after its initial release that I’m frightened of this film. It’s that effective.

Much like The LighthouseSinister is yet another horror film with a cautionary tale that I suddenly realized when I was re-watching it recently. The cautionary message in Sinister is how a lack of faith leads to one’s demise, and in this case Ellison’s when dealing with things that have demonic presence. I’ll try and tip toe around spoilers for this review, but let’s just say our protagonist here didn’t return for the sequel because of certain actions he didn’t take in this film. They don’t say that Ellison is an atheist or agnostic, but he does mention to a local deputy (James Ransone) that he doesn’t believe in ghosts, and says “I don’t really believe in that stuff.” His lack of faith puts not only himself in danger but his family as well and while I don’t care for the ending, it was something that made sense on a logical level. I think that’s why there was no priest or a member of the Church present in this film because it wanted to show the repercussions of someone having little to no faith. That and maybe it felt like a cliché to have a religious figure in a horror film of this type, though if I had to choose it would be the former.

I don’t have many complaints about Sinister, though it does have modern problems you would expect from horror films such as jump scares. I don’t mind if they’re done effectively and they work half the time here, but when it doesn’t work it got a little annoying. Another problem I had would probably be the pacing. When I recently re-watched it, I thought it was only an hour and thirty minutes. However, after an hour I checked the runtime and there was fifty minutes left and those extra twenty minutes did throw me off when it came to pacing. Despite that, it does not affect my overall thoughts on the film.

If you’re on the fence about Sinister because of the content in this film, then I wouldn’t blame you. Horror definitely isn’t for everyone, but if I had to recommend one it would definitely be Sinister. One thing I forgot to mention about what makes this film great is the rating. It’s rated R, but there’s no sexual content/nudity, no frequent strong language (I think there is one f bomb, but I can’t recall) and the violence shown isn’t as strong as one might think. It’s rated R based on disturbing images and terror alone. That’s how scary Sinister is. Like I said, it’s not my favorite horror movie but it’s definitely the scariest one for me, and it reaffirmed me how important faith is whenever you find yourself dealing with demonic possessions. Hopefully I won’t have to be in that position anytime soon.

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