Writer: C. Robert Cargill
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone
Cinematic Release: 5th October 2012
Sinister is the latest offering in American Horror, brought to us by a team with an interesting pedigree. Exorcism of Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson is at helm, helped along by Paranormal Activity producer Jason Blum. Hollywood hasn’t been particularly good at scaring people in quite a while, besides accountants obviously, but Sinister has been wowing critics left right and center in the U.S. Although having spent 110 minutes wondering to myself whether the supermarket would still be open when I finally got out of the cinema, I can’t say I understand why.
First let’s look at that title; ‘Sinister’. It’s meaningless. Not once in the film is any kind of justification for this title offered. Sure, the acts depicted in the movie could be considered ‘sinister’, but they could also be considered disgusting, disturbing, illegal, shocking (well, maybe before the Saw franchise happened) or a whole host of other adjectives that could have served as an equally arbitrary and meaningless title. But don’t judge a book by its cover and all that. What really matters is whether or not it’s any good. So what does ‘Sinister’ have going on between the covers?
Well, not much to be honest. Not much of interest anyway. Without wishing to give too many plot details away, it’s basically The Grudge. But there’s film involved so it’s kind of like The Ring too. There are also not-so-subtle nods to The Shining, The Omen, Village Of The Damned and probably a heap of other horror flicks I’m not familiar with. The film is a frantic mish-mash of ideas and images taken wholesale from some of the best of its genre. It’s all the more disappointing then that Sinister, above all else, comes across incredibly contrived.
The one thread of dignity that Sinister manages to cling to, although god knows it tries its hardest to shake it, is Ethan Hawke. As down-on-his-luck writer, Ellison Osborne, he is believable throughout and the entire project is better for his presence. The rest of the performances are generally passable (James Ransones ‘Deputy’ being a surprising highlight) with the exception of Ellisons wife Tracy, played by Juliet Rylance who, despite the fact that she’s clearly doing her best with a rubbish part, is let down consistently by lazy directing and lazier writing.
Sinister is full of cheap jumps. The cheapest of which is saved for the final shot of the film, but its arrival is so inevitable they might as well have hung a disclaimer over the opening credits. The set pieces are the usual modern American horror fare of screaming children and eventful focus pulls and are for the most part predictable and generally boring. Save for one truly bizarre sequence where Ethan Hawke is followed around the house by apparitions of zombified children, who seem to have no further agenda than to skip merrily around the halls, turning on his projector and then fleeing contemporary-dance-style into the wings when he turns to find them. It’s bewildering to watch and drew more than a few giggles from the audience.
All this could potentially be forgiven if Sinister didn’t take itself so seriously. But it does. Oh wow it does. If Sinister was an internet meme it would be serious cat; stern, stoic, bewildered as to why everyone is laughing and completely unaware of its own absurdity. A very major plot point is literally dropped in our lap seconds before it becomes important and minutes before the film ends entirely. It’s storytelling at its laziest and isn’t even an isolated incident.
If I was under pressure to pay Sinister at least one compliment it would be to its soundtrack. Christopher Young uses an impressive mélange of electronics and orchestral scoring to create some genuinely creepy soundscapes that more often than not, completely eclipse the action accompanying them on screen. Any scares that are to be found in Sinister are hiding in its soundtrack.
Sinister is functional. But only because the benchmark for modern American horror is so low at the moment. It does nothing differently to any of its peers and certainly isn’t worth the inexplicable hype currently surrounding it. Try harder next time, Hollywood; I barely broke a sweat.