Sinister (2012)

Once you see him, nothing can save you.
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Sinister - Once you see him, nothing can save you.

With the onslaught of the paranormal only being visible on rediscovered home movies in recent years, Sinister allows a lung full of unpolluted air by delivering the supernatural by way of a professional camera filming professional actors discovering the paranormal on home movies. Starring a bedraggled looking Ethan Hawke, Sinister is one of the few films of recent years that manages to quite accurately reflect the meaning of it’s one word title. The circumstances of the murders that occur would make Our Lord Satan proud and the visuals that accompany make for a quite harrowing watch without giving away what is actually happening... which turns out to be even more sinister. These scenes are massively enhanced by some really fucked up musical accompaniments which really create a feeling of unease.

The movie quite cunningly jumps on the shoulders of current popularities without neglecting the need for engaging characters, plot development and originality. It is the implementation of current horror fashion that makes Sinister stand out above the crowd without being a filthy whore. The movie is not shaky cam style yet is based around some home movies that the characters find, this gives the marketing department something to play with while the director can remain proud that he has avoided bandwagons. The paranormal aspect feels Asian influenced but does not forget the part about a detailed history that enables the folklore to intertwine with the character's development. This gives a greater depth than the typical chairs sliding across the floor because a child may or may not have issues and random entities whizzing about in the background.

Standard techniques are used to create the horror; jump scares, out of focus background Mr. Boogies and unpredictable children. These elements are used wisely within the context of the occurrences and are far from the cheap thrills sometimes added by less talented filmmakers. There are some nice touches to utilise these conventional methods which allow the tried and tested methods to work once again on a desensitised population.

This tale revolves around a true-crime writer, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), desperate to revisit the popularity he gained from his previous 15 minutes of fame. He uproots his family and, unbeknownst to them, moves them into the scene of a particularly vicious slaughter. The murder he is researching for his new book starts to reveal a number of connections missed by the authorities and starts to unravel a completely different mystery to the one he was expecting. Things start to get peculiar but his addiction to fame and success and his obsession with crime drive him to continue at the expense of his family and his relationships.

The story keeps enough secrets to ration the suspense. The viewer learns as Ellison learns. The plot evolves through the crime-writer’s observations and interactions with very little being seen outside the sphere of his influences until the finale. The murders are revealed by way of a box of home recordings that Ellison finds in the roof of his newly acquired property. The true nature of what he has got his family into is quite evidently not normal yet the specifics are dubitable until roughly somewhere about 52 minutes and 30 seconds into the film. Up until this point this could be a story about a serial killer, the deterioration of a crime-writer's mind, the Satanic hippies or a spooky ghost. It ends up being a combination of these, none of these and so much more.

The elements of the story have all been seen before and are reminiscent of the folklore often created for supernatural slashers in the seventies and eighties before it all became about the kills with the killer’s thoughts and feelings being an afterthought. The way it is all put together is what is so sexy, there are numerous influences brought together here in a coherent manner. The main character is engaging and, while revolving around a writer who gets a bit obsessed with his work is nothing new in horror, Hawke inspires a vicarious unease. The events get under the author's skin only seconds before they get under the audience's. The momentum is maintained but detaches the characters from rational thinking sometimes to do this. It seems that watching all of the mysterious home videos one after another would more likely represent human instinct than spreading out the watching over a number of days. Pedantry aside, the film is well paced and keeps the viewer involved throughout, even if this requires a character on the verge of a stereotypical "horror comedy cop" to reintroduce the ground to the viewer's feet.

Once the various parts join up the pace increases quite rapidly resulting in a brutal and adequately sinister conclusion. Despite ostensibly aiming for a more commercial market the director and half-writer, Scott Derrickson stays away from a Hollywood friendly ending negating the need for a twist to secure funds for a second outing. Sinister manages to fit in well with modern pop horror while remembering all of the aspects that make horror films unique, suspenseful, bloody, brutal and beautiful.
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