At first glance, ‘Sinister’ looks like a cardboard copy of any other generic slasher/ghost movie. Directed by the guy who brought us the horrible ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ remake Scott Derrickson and starring Ethan Hawke, Sinister turned out being one of the more effective horror movies to come out this year, let me explain why.
The story is simple: Writer Ellison (Ethan Hawke) and his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) move into a new home with their two kids Trevor and Ashley. Ellison, who still feeds on the fame from his first novel’s bestseller status, writes true-crime stories and finds a new home for their family in a town where a murder took place. What his wife and kids don’t know is that they happened in the house that they just moved in to.
We follow Ellison on his investigation into the murders, which turns out to be one of the best choices that director Derrickson made. Ethan Hawke is a very able lead and oftentimes can convey compassion for his actions even when he treads a thin line between what’s right and wrong.
The horror starts off when Ellison goes to the attic and finds a box filled with 8mm tapes.
His curiosity taking the better of him, he starts watching them and witnesses a string of murders, including the one taking place in their house, adding to that terror is the haunting image of a demon, recurring in all tapes.
It’s up until this point that the movie feels like a great mash-up from different genre’s, it’s a part haunted house, a part snuff film (the 8mm tapes really are very disturbing) and at times a crime thriller.
The big risk taken with such an approach is that it tends to fall apart into different pieces as the movie progresses, and to some extent it does.
As soon as Ellison sees the demonic image he is captivated by the meaning of it all. And through one simple google search finds ‘an expert in demonology’ to tell him that the demon is known as Bughuul a.k.a. Mr. Boogie. A demon who feeds on the soul of a child, linking him to the fact that every family murder similar to the one he’s investigating, had a child gone missing.
It’s at times a very cliched happening, with the arbitrary ‘dead kids’ roaming around, some jump scares and the cookie cutter characters such as the aforementioned ‘demonology expert’, yet it still manages to captivate a fairly long time. I was interested in finding out the inner workings of the story and felt frightened by the combination of the 8mm tapes and mysterious presence from Bughuul.
Ultimately, the movie shies away from real horror and leaves a lot of interesting turns and twists out there for us to think about (or forget, which is more likely).
Midway through the movie, the drama and tension are amped up, yet the movie ultimately fails in becoming a cohesive story. Reasons for this are the lack of depth in Ellison’s children as well as several side characters and situations. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a couple of horror cliche’s in your movie, but you have to even it out with some realism and well written characters. Without the latter ‘Sinister’ feels uneven and at times generic.
Bughuul is a great villain and has potential to become a new icon in horror, but in future offerings he would need more screentime, a voice, reasons for doing what he’s doing and a better look.
The fact that he’s so prominently shown on promotional art and posters doesn’t lessen his impact, a statement to his design, yet seeing him on screen (especially near the ending) does little to make him truely memorable. In fact, you’d be forgiven to think that it’s just a dude wearing a frightening mask, which most definitely isn’t what ‘Sinister’ wants you to feel when leaving the theatre.
Despite my criticisms about ‘Sinister’ I do feel it’s worth checking out. The 8mm tapes are easily the most effective pieces of horror I’ve seen in a long time, and Bughuul is a frightening presence for the most part of the movie. Compared to the horror hit ‘Insidious’ which shares some of it’s dna, it falls short on different aspects. Had ‘Insidious’ gone with Bughuul as a villain, I think it would have become a bigger hit than it was today. Maybe that says something about ‘Sinister’ and maybe it doesn’t.
If you’ve got a spare night and you feel up for a good horror movie, give it a whirl.
Just don’t expect to see this generations ‘Poltergeist’.