There are scenes in Sinister, a new film co-written director by Exorcism of Emily Rose Scott Derrickson and Aint it Cool News writer C.Robert Cargill that burrow into your brain and stick with you long after the credits roll.
With his new film Derrickson takes the popular, so-called “found footage” genre and turns it around on its head.
Blocked true crime writer Ellison Oswalt, expertly played by slacker god Ethan Hawke (Reality Bites, Before Sunrise), moves his family, though unbeknownst to his wife (semi-new comer Juliet Rylance), into a home of a family who were hung from a tree in their own backyard. The branch is still laying in the back yard.
As they’re moving in, Oswalt is met by the local Sheriff, played with Southern glee by Congressman and former Presidential candidate Fred Thompson, who gives the “pack up your things and go speech” from chapter 8 of Horror Films for Dummies.
It seems that though the hanged family’s youngest child is still missing, Sheriff Foghorn Leghorn believes that she’s dead and that the Oswalt should take his book idea elsewhere and let the town get on with their lives.
It’s at this point that the film made me wonder what it really must be like for the families of real true crime writers. Later in the film wife Rylance gives an impassioned speech about not being able to go to the grocery store and the kids getting bullied at school and you start to think about these writers that go from town to town to write some exploitation murder of the week book.
Back on point. After settling in, Oswalt finds two things in the attic. A scorpion and a box of ironic titled snuff films.
thankfully Oswalt gets right to setting up the provided projector and firing (heh) up the films.
These quick, 16 mm home movies is where the strength of the film lies. Though its never been proven, I imagine that a snuff film looks exactly like the ones in Sinister; grainy, free of sound and seriously disturbing.
WHO is filming the families as they burn, drown and dangle to death, it the real mystery. This is when the film takes a turn from softcore torture porn to an occult film. It seems the hand behind these murders, where the youngest child disappears, is some sort of pagan god.
The death metal fan doubling as a the god Baal pops up in all the snuff footage observing the families’ last gasps.
I’m not going to spoil any more of the film. If you have half a brain, you’ll figure it out about half way into the film.
Sinister cleverly steals from better, more established films like Ringu of Japan and The Devil’s Backbone of Spain and is a great pre-halloween jumpy-scare romp out.
But there are some problems. Thankfully, acting is not one of them. The domestic scenes between Hawke and Rylance crackle with the reality of a couple who’s at their wits end. The problems are smaller more niggling details.
The prosthetics on several of the supporting characters looks amateurish and heavy handed. And then there’s the ending…
I’m going to go wayyyyyy out on a limb here and suspect that the suits got their grubby hands on the end of the movie.
There were several chances to end Sinister on a chilling/ambiguous note, but no..studio execs are notorious for thinking that American sheeple crave a hackneyed “scary ending.” My advice is to leave the movie after the ax falls (you’ll get it when you see it) and you’ll have a better taste in your mouth than if you hang on till the last frame which is so laughably bad that it ALMOST negates the clever film before it.
Like Insidious last year, Sinister is an original horror film not based on a franchise and deserves a look before the neverending story of suburban psychosis Paranormal Activity 4 hits the theaters in a few weeks.
3 out of five stars.
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