Sinister: SXSW Reviews

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Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson (screenplay), C. Robert Cargill
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance and James Ransone

Despite what the synopsis implies ‘Sinister’ is not a found footage film, although it does flirt with the genre as an exploration of a character who quite literally finds a collection of disturbing footage. The film premiered to an eager audience as a SXSW secret screening and audible gasps and screams filled the theater well into the early hours of the morning.(sidenote: theater delays, midnight screenings, and daylight savings don’t mix)

Ethan Hawke plays Ellison, a true crime novelist who has moved his wife and children into a home where an entire family was murdered in order to inspire his next big hit and prove to himself that his career hasn’t peaked. The unsolved murder is shrouded in mystery and all that is known is that the family was found hanging from a tree in the yard, and their young daughter was abducted.

After discovering a box full of old super 8 films and a projector in the attic Ellison immediately takes to studying the footage and discovers that each reel depicts the final gruesome moments of several families that have been murdered over the last few decades.

The beauty of the film is that it doesn’t feel rushed and spends a lot of time as an exploration of things that go bump in the night. Ellison roaming through is dark house investigating strange sounds is familiar territory for most people and helps lure the audience in for a few genuine scares. An eerie score by composer Christopher Young (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) further  aids in pulling the audience further into the world of the narrative and sets the tone for a series of spine tingling frights.

As with most any horror film ‘Sinister’ does rely on a handful of jump scares although they don’t undermine the narrative and are carefully executed within scenes with unbelievable tension.  And the performances, especially Ethan Hawke’s, are all solid and ensure a constant suspension of disbelief which is crucial for the genre — a few off-pitch deliveries can sink a horror film.

‘Sinister’ delivers on multiple levels and from the opening sequence to the sucker punch of an ending the film takes you into a very dark place and makes absolutely no apologies for it.

Sinister opens October 2012.