The Exorcism of Emily Rose writer/director, Scott Derrickson manages to deliver a compelling character drama with a smart and disturbing film experience with his latest intense horror-mystery, Sinister.
In the opening scene we see a grainy, scratchy film depicting a family of four standing beneath a tree with hoods over their heads and nooses around their necks. An unseen figure saws through a branch acting as a counterweight, causing them to hang and choke to death. Thumbs up from me in terms of setting the mood.
Sinister is based around washed up true crime writer, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who is looking for his next big break and case mystery to claw back the brief fame and fortune he once had. He drags his wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), and their two children, 7 year-old Ashley (Clare Foley), and 12 year-old Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario), miles away from their home to move into the house in which the grizzly opening scene took place only months earlier.
Only Ellison out of the family knows of the disturbing history of the house and he intends to use the murders as the basis for his new book, hoping that his research will turn up the fate of the family’s fifth member, who disappeared following the murders.
As the family unpack and settle into their new home, Ellison wanders up to the attic and discovers a crate containing Super 8 reels and a projector. Locked in his office later that night, Ellison fires up the machine and the footage he witnesses offers a distressingly vivid insight into the crime of the murder he is researching.
As he begins to watch each roll of film day-by-day, these snuff movies continue to detail the murder of families in various ways over the spam of a decade. Ellison allows the fascinatingly gruesome films to wash over him, both excited by the secret evidence for his budding novel and disturbed by the imagery, downing them away in tumblers of whiskey.
Ellison eventually notices a frightening figure observing the murders in each of the films, along with a strange painted symbol. Upon inspection of the attic he finds childish drawings depicting the murders, all with the same crude sketches of this demonic figure, identified as “Mr. Boogie.”
Consulting local deputy So & So (James Ransone), Ellison manages to pull more grizzly details of the murders, and with the help of an expert in occult and demonic phenomena, learn the real name and intentions of the figure known as “Mr Boogie”. Not sharing the news with the wife and kids proves an unwise decision as when things start going bump in the night Ellison is soon weighing his professional priorities against the mental welfare and physical safety of his family.
This movie had me glued from start to finish, and I’ve watched it a few times since then, still thoroughly enjoying it each time. The only cast members I recognized were Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Taking Lives) and James Ransone (The Wire TV Series, Inside Man, Oldboy (US version), but the rest of the mainly fairly unknown cast all did a convincing job within their roles. Ransone’s dopey character adding some light-hearted humor to the intensity.
The scares are effective throughout, helped a good deal by Christopher Young’s glitchy electronic score. If the music that accompanies these super 8 shorts doesn’t creep you out at least slightly, the films themselves will. And if the kids don’t get you, Mr Boogie will.
Sinister is one of my favorite horror films of the 2010+ decade, and I recommend it to any horror fan.
WICKED RATING: 8/10 [usr 8]
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer(s): Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley
Studio/ Production Co: Alliance Films, IM Global, Blumhouse Productions, Automatik Entertainment, Possessed Pictures
Length: 110 mins
Sub-Genre: Mystery, Thriller