I went to see Sinister last week, and I did have some reservations about it. It’s made by the people behind Insidious and Paranormal Activity, and I was a little concerned that it would have the same kind of over-the-top ending that Insidious had. I’d enjoyed the film until then, but the whole part in ‘the further’ kind of took me out of it. I was pleasantly surprised, though. Sinister does have the same kind of atmosphere, but manages to avoid being as overblown and ridiculous. Not to say that I thought it was perfect, but I enjoyed myself.
The plot centres on Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime writer who has just moved into a new house with his wife and two kids. What his family have yet to discover is that the house is the site of a multiple slaying and child abduction that took place a couple of years previously. Ellison discovers a projector and a box of old home movies in the attic, and finds that they not only depict the deaths of the family who had lived in his house, but also the murders of several other families. Not only that, but hidden in each of the films is a demonic figure. Watching. Instead of calling the police like any rational person would have done, Ellison sets out to uncover the mystery of the tapes, and finds that they are linked to a pagan demon called Bughuul who devours the souls of children. And all the signs point to his own kids being in danger.
The film is well acted, and I don’t think I’ve disguised the fact that I found Ellison to be one of the most maddening protagonists ever. I mean, what a douche. He drags his poor long-suffering family across the country, not bothering to tell them that they’re living in a murder house. Then he is so blinded by his ambition to resurrect his writing career that he flagrantly breaks the law and puts his family in even more danger. Not that this lessened my enjoyment of the film in any way. In fact, it was quite fun to be mad at Ellison and his omnipresent man cardigan.
Bughuul was very creepy, which is something I appreciate in my demons. Also, there were lots of creepy ghost kids. I was happy to note that while there were a few jump scares, the film relied more on subtle scare tactics. A captured image moving while a character isn’t looking. Ellison’s daughter’s increasingly disturbing drawings. A projector turning on by itself in the middle of the night.
I guess you could say that the film has a twist ending, but I was happy to note that it wasn’t one of those twists that throws the audience through a completely implausible loop. There were clues as to what was going on all the way through, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing the film again to see if I can spot more. I’d half guessed what was going on by the time it happened, but it made the resolution no less enjoyable and creepy for me.
And yeah, it was a creepy film. I know this because I’d painted my nails and by the time we left the cinema I’d picked all the varnish off. That’s always a pretty good test of how much tension a film has. This kind of polished horror film can sometimes fall flat, but I felt that Sinister was a welcome exception.