Sinister (2012)

Trailer banned for egregious spoilage.

One day, I will open a movie theater of my own. It will be independently operated, unaffiliated with  any of the big chains. Gourmet popping corn will be available in flavors other than salt ‘n carcinogens. 3D will forbidden. Seats will be leather and spaced out so as to make it virtually impossible to kick the chair in front of you. And once a year, at the opening of a high profile popcorn movie, I will plant a couple of interns (upon the toil of thousands of which I shall forge my empire) and have them jabber through the previews and into the first minute of the movie. My impotent ushers will make a big show of shushing them and telling them this is their final warning. The plants will not heed this warning. They will throw things at the usher and break out their cell phones to make calls and take flash pictures. They will howl with glee, drunk on their power to cause mayhem with impunity.


The poor, abused usher will return. Grinning like a madman he will look toward the exits while slowly raising a finger toward the offenders. The disruptive interns will turn in feigned confusion as four giant bouncers explode from the doors, rush in and fucking RUIN them – tasers, bags over the head, zip ties – before dragging them out kicking and screaming. The usher will skip after the enforcers beaming with satisfaction. At the door he’ll turn and say, “The management advises you to please be considerate of those around you.”

The good news is the house was way cheaper than the one we were looking at down the street. The bad news is…

The story: Ethan Hawke plays a character whose name is not important enough to remember so we will call him Ethan Hawke. He is a true-crime author who, after a hugely successful debut, has lately been in a slump that looks more and more like his baseline as time goes by. He seeks to turn things around by investigating the hanging murder of an entire suburban family. Pulling out all the stops, he decides to move INTO the house where the grisly murders took place. Ethan Hawke tells us it was a good deal and we can’t fault him for being frugal. Do you think Ethan Hawke is made of money? A trip to the attic turns up a box of old home movies depicting the horrific crime in graphic detail, drawing Ethan Hawke deeper into the mystery of what really happened to the previous owners. Consider it a housewarming gift.

Oh my god. These will be worth a FORTUNE on eBay!

Biggest letdown: My complaints are relatively minor, and they’re more a matter of taste than anything else. Finding the box of home movies in the attic, while entirely an intentional choice, robs the audience of the chance to look over Ethan Hawke’s shoulder as he combs through old police reports and newspaper clippings. I always enjoy scenes like that, but with so much going on I suppose there just wasn’t time. For the most part any shortcomings are variations on the standard gripe endemic to horror movies that rely on big scares: to advance the plot, the characters must be far dumber than real people, far braver, or both. There’s no way we ever find out what’s going on in the attic if Ethan Hawke doesn’t go upstairs to investigate. During a power outtage, in the middle of the night, with only his cellphone to light his way. Even if checking out the source of those strange noises is what he needs to do, surely it’s worth taking the time to reset the circuit breakers, or at least get a proper flashlight. Similarly, once it’s clear the killer has been inside the house – RECENTLY – a reasonable father would call the cops, move out of the house, buy a gun, etc. But not our man, he soldiers on and doesn’t mention a word to anyone. The effort to explain it away as a product of his desperation to renew his relevancy is admirable, but no amount of explaining can justify such a cavalier attitude toward his family’s safety.

This definitely has nothing to do with living in a murder scene. I mean, cursed location. Er, mass grave. Hey, who wants ice cream?

Why you should watch: If you’re going to see one scary movie in the theaters this month, make it Sinister. Many will save their thirteen dollars(!) for Paranormal Activity 4, and to them I say FIE. But whatever movie you choose, don’t watch the trailers for it. Don’t read articles about it (except this one!) and for god’s sake don’t do a google image search. Unlike dramas or comedies, you can’t simply pluck out the most enticing images from a horror movie, throw them into a trailer out of order and hope to avoid spoiling the movie. Even a casual observer will notice that the trailers for Sinister give away the central element of the latter half of the film, which may sell tickets but dramatically undermines the movie’s effectiveness. What the trailer makes an upfront selling point should have been a complete surprise. If you don’t know what I mean, good for you. Keep it that way.

But even with all that, Sinister is a blast. It makes me so happy to see a movie that plays horror straight. No found footage (not really, anyway), no ironic meta framing device, no transparent references to genre conventions for cheap laughs, and no gimmicky plot twists. It even makes room for textbook staples like consulting an expert on occult crimes from “The University”, which delights me beyond words. And how about a round of applause for Ethan Hawke himself? I make fun but here we have big star whose fame easily outweighs everyone in the film – cast, director, writers – combined, yet he commits 100% to what could be a very mundane genre role like he’s vying for an Oscar. While I don’t anticipate any “For your consideration…” ads for Sinister, his performance is so far beyond what you typically see in movies like this it feels like watching Brando doing Streetcar.

This projector is broken. I’m staring right at it and all I can see is a blinding light.

And did I mention it’s actually, legitimately scary? Unlike Les Activities Paranormale, this movie doesn’t need 45 seconds of bass rumble to prime the audience for a scare. Director Scott Derrickson uses smart timing and expertly distracting shot composition to focus your attention, rattle your nerves, and finally scare the ever-loving shit out of you. At one point, I kid you not, I bit so hard on a scare I let out an involuntary “What the fuck!” to which – and again I kid you not – the unsettlingly well-behaved gang of teenage boys sitting in front of me turned around to shush ME. Then my brain exploded.

I’m the Tyler Durden of home movies.

Memorable Moment: You know in the first 30 seconds Sinister is headed to a very dark psychological place. But along the way the movie changes gears and becomes something else entirely. The moment that happens is fucking bonkers and will absolutely blow you away. Unless you watched the trailer.

Choice quote: “Mr. Oswalt, what kind of book are you writing, exactly?”

About the Rating System

9 Responses to “Sinister (2012)”

  1. Great review. Still not watching it.

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