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Overall Rating

Awesome: 5.88%
Worth A Look64.71%
Average: 17.65%
Pretty Bad: 5.88%
Total Crap: 5.88%

1 review, 11 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"'Sinister' is, and scary besides."
4 stars

"Sinister" feels like an anomaly among horror movies in the last few years, where the rule of thumb has seemed to be that the wider the theatrical release, the less impressive the movie. It's not hard and fast, but let's face it - when a movie as good as this one opens opens in a whole bunch of theaters, it almost feels like someone tricked the studios.

What makes Sinister so good? I suspect that the main thing is that co-writer/director Scott Derrickson chooses not to emphasize the thrill of the kill. He and co-writer C. Robert Cargill have actually come up with a series of diabolical murders, but right from the opening scene they are presented as fait accompli, captured and shown to both the audience and true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) on 8mm film. It drains the adrenaline rush from the experience, leaving much more actual horror.

Of course, it wouldn't be an entertaining movie if it were just a series of terrible things that the characters cannot do anything about. Even though Derrickson and company wait a while to start doling out an explanation of what's going on, the movie is well-stocked with reasons for the audience to jump or hold their breaths, whether they be fake-outs, hints of what is coming up next, or having stuff happen once the mythology that has been established (in what is fairly obvious but well-done exposition dump). It's relatively low-key in some ways - Derrickson isn't looking to set a new benchmark for on-screen gore - but well-done.

The concept Derrickson and Cargill come up with - a true-crime writer moving his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), son Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario), and daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) into the house where the crime he's researching took place only to discover that he has stumbled upon something bigger and stranger - is perhaps not quite so intriguing a set-up as Derrickson's The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but has a little more depth than one might expect. The filmmakers are willing to let the audience infer what's going on in the background rather than lay out every single detail, and they trust that we can figure out that Ellison can be somewhat self-destructive when working on a book without talking about it until the point where it makes sense for someone to bring it up. Perhaps even more clever is that there are a couple of interesting levels of subtext: Sure, it's easy to spot the chestnut about writers getting too close to their subjects, but there's an even more intriguing parallel between Ellison and the thing he discovers.

Almost everything in this movie comes back to Ethan Hawke on-screen, and he's up to the challenge. It's an interesting one, too; this is a character who is defined by his hubris throughout, almost never fitting the role of hero (and often rubbing the audience the wrong way) but still being a guy the audience can relate to despite his flaws; he sells Ellison's ego and his concern for his family equally. Juliet Rylance, Clare Foley, and Michael Hall D'Addario are good support as his family, pretty much what one expects from the characters but not overdoing it. The movie also does a neat job in countering expectations with local law enforcement, initially offering up Fred Dalton Thompson as the predictably gruff sheriff but eventually giving more screen time and doing more interesting things (and doing them well) with James Ransone as his deputy.

"Sinister" gets the job done; even if it could be a bit tighter in some spots, it knows how to make the audience jump and occasionally wince. It's exciting to see a reasonably smart, well-done,and even occasionally scary movie actually make it to the multiplexes.

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originally posted: 10/23/12 14:24:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2012 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2012 series, click here.

User Comments

5/26/20 brian Cliched dumb guy horror flick. Occasionally creepy. 3 stars
9/14/17 morris campbell a new classic imho 4 stars
1/17/16 Alexis H You hope it's not real, you almost wish you could hear the screams. That is how good it is. 4 stars
8/05/13 ALICE Loved it, very scary 5 stars
6/18/13 mr.mike It's been done. 3 stars
4/22/13 Durwood Great for fans of supernatural horror--don't mess with Mr. Boogie!!! 4 stars
3/27/13 Liz Who thinks of this stuff? Utterly horrible from the very first moment. 1 stars
2/25/13 action movie fan great atmosphere but too sluggish and weak ending 3 stars
11/24/12 Langano Good film that pays off at the end. 4 stars
10/23/12 Stephanie Creepy 4 stars
10/16/12 nancyn Some scary moments connected by extreme silliness 2 stars
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  12-Oct-2012 (R)
  DVD: 19-Feb-2013


  DVD: 19-Feb-2013

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