Review of the film SINISTER (2012) by Nick Anderson
“Don’t worry daddy…I’ll make you famous again.”
In “Sinister”, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime writer, moves with his family into a home where a horrific murder took place. Oswalt is hoping to resurrect his flagging career by writing a new bestseller about the case. He discovers a mysterious box in the attic that contains several Super 8 tapes. Each tape features grainy footage of a family being murdered. In each instance, the parents and an older child are killed but a younger child is nowhere to be found. As his research into the case progresses, Oswalt realizes that a pagan deity named Bagul may be behind the killings. Meanwhile, his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and son Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) grow increasingly nervous about their new home. Ellison’s daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) tells him about a mysterious girl that she sees traipsing around the house. Oswalt soon starts to experience terrifying visions of the ghosts of the missing children, as well as of Bagul himself.
“Sinister” utilizes both conventional cinematography and the “found footage” style popularized by “The Blair Witch Project” and the “Paranormal Activity” series. The film’s creepiest moments are found in the eerie home videos depicting the demises of Bagul’s past victims. Although the tree hanging is memorable, the one that I found the creepiest involved a family being drowned. Each member of the family is strapped to a lawnchair and then plunged into a pool one by one. Imagine being tied down, completely helpless, listening to the rest of your family drown and knowing that you are about to meet the same fate.
Bagul is an interesting villain. He is an ancient Babylonian deity who uses images of himself to travel from his world to ours. As long as pictures of him exist, he can use them as portals to attack more victims. Bagul is able to possess people and manipulate them into performing horrific acts, similar to the demons found in many other horror films. He also preys on children and steals their souls, similar to characters like Pennywise and Freddy Krueger.
Like most horror movies, “Sinister” does not feature any standout performances. Hawke and the rest of the cast are serviceable. They are good enough to get the job done, and that’s usually all a horror film needs.
The film relies too much on jump scares at times. Having a ghost (or an evil ancient pagan deity) suddenly appear out of nowhere is always a good way to get a cheap jolt out of the audience, but it only works once. Truly creepy horror movies are still effective after multiple viewings. Director Scott Derrickson does a solid job of building a sense of tension and dread. He didn’t need to include so many jump scares.
The film’s relentlessly bleak ending is harsh even by horror movie standards, but it’s the only logical way for the film to conclude. There is no quick fix or cheap resolution. The final scene suggests the possibility of a sequel, and the film’s box office success makes this seem likely. Perhaps Bagul will someday be regarded as an iconic villain.
“Sinister” is a solid choice for those looking for a dark, creepy horror movie. It’s more original than most recent genre offerings. In an added bonus, it’s not a remake, a sequel, or a reboot.