Sinister is the latest film directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day The Earth Stood Still), and Robert Cargill also shares the writing duties. Ethan Hawk (Training Day, The Faculty) plays Ellison, a true crime author who has fallen on hard times. In need of a best seller and a smaller home, he moves into a small house in a rural area. That house happens to be the site of a grizzly murder. As our ludicrously named hero investigates the murder further, things become more…sinister.
Sinister is quite a strange film that is certain to be compared heavily to 2010s Insidious; this is compounded by the poster being emblazoned with the boast of “From the producer of Insidious and Paranormal Activity”. Without giving too much away, both films share very similar stories and themes. Children with special issues are at the heart of each movie, as is a more fantastical representation of the paranormal than normal. Sinister almost feels like a companion piece to Insidious.
Where Sinister really excels is in its sound design. The off-key, disconcerting and constant use of non-diegetic sound builds considerable tension. Even the use of the absence of sound works remarkably well. After a build up of incredibly bewildering and strange sounds, the sudden silence is almost scarier than anything we see.
The scares start off good with the scene involving the cardboard box being especially effective. However, towards the end of the film, Sinister lapses into the curse of the horror genre, showing too much. The plot reaches a point that forces the film to start being far more revealing and this completely blunts the impact of the first 30 minutes. It ends up feeling more like a children’s horror film that got too gory.
Hawk’s acting manages to bring life to a somewhat clichéd script and the sound design is impeccable, but one is left disappointed by the final product. Some of the scares are extremely lazy and the same technique is used on multiple occasions. It’s nice to see horror films moving away from the era of torture porn that was prevalent in the late 2000s, but there is still need for improvement.
Watch the trailer for Sinister here