Horror clichés are embraced and brilliantly re-applied in the chilling and well performed supernatural thriller Sinister.
Usually when a horror movie brings together a haunted house, found footage moments, slasher tropes and a boogeyman, it’s usually packaged in a movie-spoof to make fun of such clichés.
Sinister is no spoof. Despite its embracement of before mentioned clichés, Sinister is one of the more authentically scary horror thrillers to haunt the screen in some time, a product of smart filmmaking, intriguing premise and a great lead performance from Ethan Hawke. When the film opens with the disturbing hanging of a family (played out to an eerie silence and the backdrop of a suburban backyard engulfed by mist), that shuddering feeling of something wicked coming our way takes over and does not let go.
The film focuses on Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) a washed up true crime novelist who moves his long suffering family into the home of before mentioned murder scene, which is the subject of his new book. When he comes across a box of 8mm home movies that depict a number of murders linked to the one he is investigating, his obsession into finding the truth leads him into truly menacing territory.
Hawke delivers an astounding and utterly convincing performance as a writer and family man engrossed and disturbed by the images flickering in front of him, whose obsession with solving this grizzly mystery equal to his fixation in retaining his once promising career. A vastly underrated actor who has no qualms in mixing up low budget genre movies (Daybreakers, Assault on Precinct 13) with more art-house fair (The Hottest State, the Before series) Hawke gives Sinister his all, and in turn makes the stakes that much more tangible and the terror that much more frightening.
The director of Sinister is Scott Derrickson, who previously scared us silly with The Exorcism of Emily Rose (inadvertently rejuvenating the demonic possession movie in the process). Here is a filmmaker who much like William Friedkin and Roman Polanski before him takes to the horror genre with an earnest seriousness, never domineering in his use of creeks, thuds and bumps nor in his portrayal of violence (suitably disturbing but never gordy), blending the supernatural with the realistic while emphasising character and tone, so when those well-known horror stereotypes do strike they do not feel dated.
Unlike The Cabin in the Woods (which also successfully took on horror cliché), Sinister is a horror movie for both fan and novice. As movie titles go, it is an apt one.