Review: Sinister

[Ed. note: This article was mistakenly credited to Joseph Holmes in issue 273. Apologies.]

Sinister is the latest horror film from director Scott Derrickson, and tells the story of a semi-successful crime writer (Ethan Hawke) who moves his family into a house, that was once the scene of a grisly quadruple murder, to write his magnum opus.

As this synopsis suggests, Sinister is riddled with clichés. It has the haunted house, creepy kids, foreboding sheriff and pretty much everything else you’d expect in a run of the mill horror movie.

One of the main problems with Sinister is its failure to handle these tropes in new or inventive ways. While Derrickson works hard to create a seriously unsettling tone, he throws it out the window with cheap jump scares, an unexpected shift towards the paranormal, and dialogue which ought to sound purposely cheesy but only serves to highlight the film’s pretensions.

Despite its fundamental problems, Sinister does have its virtues; most importantly the fact that it is a legitimately
scary film. It consistently delivers without falling into the trap of overloading itself with unnecessary gore.

It uses found super 8 footage of families dying in gruesome ways in a manner that avoids being distasteful. Also worth mentioning is Ethan Hawke’s central performance; his slow descent into desperation and madness never feels too camp, although there are times where you must seriously question his character’s poor judgment.

Audiences have been crying out for a great original horror film for a long time, but time after time get served poor 80s remakes and lazy sequels. Sinister isn’t the antidote to this, it’s nothing new and it won’t breathe new life into a stagnant genre, but it does deliver on everything it promises.

Anyone looking for a neat little horror film on a Friday night could do a great deal worse, but those waiting for the next David Cronenberg or Dario Argento had best keep holding their breath.


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September 2021
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