Sinister is a horror film directed by Scott Derrickson starring Ethan Hawke as Ellison, a writer trying to solve a true crime in which a family of four were murdered and a child disappeared. He and his family move to a small US town so that he can uncover the truth and go on to relive the fame and fortune that followed the release of a book of his ten years earlier.
As far as modern horror films go Sinister is not particularly original. It’s hard to imagine that its life outside of the cinemas will be long and prosperous as its plot and ideas are messy and its characters are forgettable, but this is not a film for those looking for something to ponder over. Sinister is a ghost train that takes you to the limits of your nerves and keeps you there longer than is comfortable.
It continues a trend in horror films of found footage revealing scary things, but rather than seeming tired and repetitive these scenes – aided by a different piece of wonderfully creepy music for each reel of super 8 Ellison watches – are properly disturbing.
Tonally the film jumps from horror to drama to comedy in a way that makes it all seem farcical. To enjoy what the film has to offer will take a willingness to ignore any commitment an audience may normally have to a story or characters.
The kind of jump-scares Sinister employs feel like cheating at times, as you can almost predict when another loud noise is going to coincide with something popping up out of the dark onto the screen. It attacks some part of your biology that tells you you have one hundredth of a second to react or you’ll be killed, and no matter how hard to you try you can’t protect yourself against it.
These jump-scares do feel cheap but they have the added effect that every bit of negative space that shows up on-screen becomes sinister with the expectation that it will be suddenly filled with another scary thing. This effect keeps the film tense even through the less exciting bits.
Sinister is not a film in the vein of Jaws or Psycho that make you mortally fear things in the real world like swimming in the ocean or taking a shower with the door unlocked, but for the one hour and fifty minutes spent in the cinema (and several hours afterwards) you will fear that your heart rate will never go back down to normal again.