I consider myself to be a pretty jaded horror fan. After seeing so many of these things in my earlier days, I like to think it takes a lot to scare me. As I mentioned in the most recent episode of my dad podcast called The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, the first few decapitations you see on screen might freak you out, but eventually you get used to it, strange as that may sound. Sure, I’ve been scared by movies. In fact, I’m working on a list of the 10 movies that scared me the most over the years and I think I might have to make room for Sinister.
I’d heard a few things about this film directed by Scott Derrickson (The Last Exorcism Of Emily Rose) and starring Ethan Hawke. Nothing specific mind you, just that it was a really original take and that it was pretty darn scary. I’d seen a few of the other Blumhouse films like Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 and Insidious. I dug those flicks, but they weren’t super scary, so I wasn’t sure what to think. Still, with Halloween creeping closer and closer, I figured I’d challenge myself with something that’s supposed to be pretty eerie.
And you know what? It is. It’s really damn creepy. I won’t get into too many details or spoilers here because this movie really works best when you go in knowing nothing, but the story follows Hawke’s true crime novelist Ellison Oswalt who moves into the house a family was murdered in to research his next book. As the story progresses we come to understand that Ellison not only has the creative desire to write that I can relate to, but the dragon-chasing need to get back on top in his field, to be beloved, famous and rich again.
The problem? This case is getting creepy. Not only does he repeatedly wake up hearing strange sound at night, but he also discovers a mysterious projector and several home movies in the attic. But these aren’t any normal films, they’re videos of people getting brutally murdered, many of which feature a creepy man in a white, red and black mask with stringy hair. The more Ellison uncovers about the mystery the more strange occurrences he experiences including several that involve his son and daughter.
Usually, I let these things simmer for a night or two (either to form my thoughts or because I’m generally lazy), but I’m writing this one up immediately after watching because it freaked me out so much. There’s a strong sense of dread and atmosphere built up as Ellison descends deeper and deeper into this mess that we know can not end well. But, there’s one scene in particular that had me squeezing my remote so hard I thought it might snap. Let’s just say I knew there were five elements from a previous scene and was counting them down in my head, wanting them to immediately leave the screen as soon as they appeared. Yeesh, I haven’t felt that nervous and freaked out because of a movie in ages. When the first showed up, I gasped out loud which almost never happens anymore.
I actually watched this movie in two chunks because I started while my wife was putting our daughter down for the night and then she came out. The timing could not have been worse considering it was right after the above scene and I went into our kitchen to switch out the laundry. I heard her walk down the hall, but then I turned around she my wife’s standing there holding one of our daughter’s baby dolls by the neck. I don’t usually let these things scare me in the real world, but that got me. Also, I’m definitely going to get a little skitchy every time the kid tells me to shush now.
So, it wold be pretty safe to say that I liked Sinister and that it scared me, which is — I assume — what it set out to do, so mission accomplished. I appreciate that the movie earned 98% of its scares instead of going for quick sound or fake out gags. I wasn’t such a fan of the repetitive feel that came from Ellison walking into a dark room and NEVER turning a light on or the fact that he woke up to creepy noises so many times, but such greatness came from those moments that it almost didn’t even matter.