Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: SINISTER

Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by: C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D'Addario, James Ransone, and Vincent D'Onofrio
Synopsis: A man moves his family to a house where a murder took place in order to write his next best seller, but strange and eerie events begin once they move in. 

Here's the deal with modern day horror films. They're not scary and don't resonate past your initial viewing. Sure, jump scares can be fun, but that doesn't signify a good horror film. SINISTER, written by Austinite (darling) writer C. Robert Cargill and director Scott Derrickson, is a fresh entry to the modern horror genre. It's not perfect, but thankfully also not predictable.

SINISTER is almost the ultimate found footage film. It's found footage from the third person point of view. Ethan Hawke is a novelist whose specialty is crime novels. He uproots his family from location to location each time he's writing his next book. In SINISTER, he has found the perfect location. The house was the site of the gruesome murders of its previous owners. Four members of the previous family were hanged in the backyard in a chilling and ritualistic manner, but to make the story even stranger, the youngest child of the family is still missing. Hawke dedicates himself to writing his next great hit ten years after one of his novels gave him his 15 minutes of fame. Hawke stumbles across a box in the attic that appeared after they moved in. The box is dusty and labeled as "home movies". There are five reels and an old camera ready and willing for him to view it.

Yes, in a horror film, the lead character found footage of horrors. How meta, yet the premise works. As Hawke begins to delve deeper into the films, he begins to become obsessed in finding the common thread between them. As his research begins to consume him, eerie occurrences and bumps in the night begin to happen. His son's night terrors come back in full force, his daughter starts painting weird images related to the murders, he hears footsteps in the attic, and the camera turns on by itself during the night. What works with the film is the ambiance and tension created by Derrickson. The film takes a few expected beats. For example, why must we always explore the attic at night? Or shut the damn door when you go running outside at night because you think you saw someone.

Another strength that helps this film is the performance by Ethan Hawke. He is able to take a somewhat unlikable and selfish character and make him appear sympathetic. Hawke turns the ambition for his next book into desperation to find the truth of what happen to the family and missing child. The other stand out was James Ransone, who plays the Deputy. His dry and sarcastic line delivery brought nice breaks to the tension. He seem to speak for the audience by echoing some of our thoughts about Hawke's actions.

Like most horror films, it is best to avoid any and all advertisement for this movie. Thankfully their marketing department has kept some of the best secrets hidden away from red band trailers and movie stills. SINISTER isn't a game-changer in horror, but rather what a thriller film should be. It follows some of the expected beats, but eventually pays off with a tension-filled second half. If you're tired of torture porn and recycled found footage story lines or even if you were like me and have become apathetic to modern horror films, give this a try. I highly doubt it will disappoint.  

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