Sinister is a film that wants to be the modern version of The Shinning, Children of the Corn, and The Strangers put together, but ends up being more like Secret Window, a mildly engaging but incredibly flawed film with a hilariously foolish framing device and a long running time. What makes this movie so disappointing is that Sinister wastes a good performance by Ethan Hawke and some terrific Oscar worthy sound design on a premise they never pay off and an ending that will leave moviegoers scratching their heads. Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer, who moves his family into the house where a grizzly crime took place to try and figure out what happened to the missing child. After stumbling upon a box of home movies in the attic, he finds himself drawn into a mystery that is far more sinister than a missing child.
Parsing through my disappointment and confusion, it’s easy to see that the film derives all of it’s problems from a truly lackluster script. For about 2/3rds of the film there was a story worth telling. But the creators throw so much at the wall in hopes that something will stick that they lose the engagement of the audience. They introduce the son having night tremors, which provides minimal scares and has absolutely no bearing on the film whatsoever. They also short change the deputy, played fantastically by James Ransone, but only use him to either fawn after the author or serve as his exposition machine. Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance are the only two characters fully developed but even they have their issues. Hawke stumbles through much of this film in dimly lit rooms and dark hallways, which in reality. Hawke’s character is NY Times best seller, accomplished super 8 film editor (?) and image conasuir, but he NEVER turns on a light during this entire film. I am fully compliant with the need to suspend disbelief in horror films, but you can not position a character as a smart person and then not have them even considering turning on a hallway light when they are scared. When I wasn’t being bored by the lack of character development, I was yelling in my mind for him to turn on a damn light. Considering Hawke’s character’s propensity for doing police work without the help of the police, just having him stumble upon the box in the attic when he already knew about the murder in the house was a wasted opportunity. It would have been much more interesting seeing him actively engaged rather than just having the box placed conveniently in the attic. The framing device is also an issue. (Super 8 film, in this day and age?) Though it makes for some great tension and sound effects, did the film makers think that people would just sit there and accept that our killer is using super 8 film?
The game of cat and mouse in the script provides a few jump scares on it’s way to what was a completely underwhelming and frankly unearned ending. So yes, everything I’ve just described to you has little if anything to do with the end of the film. Horror movies having twist is not a novel concept, however to plunge a completely different plotline and outcome which you haven’t even bothered to hint at during the entire film is a cheap ploy and lazy. Especially after building up a compelling villain and having long scenes where an occult professor explains us the villain’s reasoning, it makes no sense to not at least hint at some ulterior motives throughout the film to clue the audience in, rather than give us a 5 minute rush of “exposition” to inform us of what the real outcome. The pacing of the film is also incredibly top heavy drawing out early plot points that have no relevance to the ending and could have been better employed at the back end to fully flesh out the finale.
The one element of this film that will stay with me for a while is the sound design and score. I said on Twitter that this was the best sound design I’ve heard in a horror film. The way the sound mixers and the composer wove the score into the recorded sound and used elements from the environment was nothing short of spectacular. It’s too bad that the film it was attached to wasn’t as engaging as the sound.