Monday, April 11, 2016

Sinister


   It's never particularly easy for me to decide which mainstream horror movies are worth watching. There's so much absolute garbage out there, and there's also a bunch of gems. I'm not keen to waste my time on movies I'm going to hate so more often than not I'll avoid a movie if it looks like it even has the potential to be crappy. Sinister was one I avoided back in 2012, but for some reason I got the itch to see it now. I don't know why, I can't even remember what brought it back to my attention- but there I was at four in the AM, watching it. Oh boy.

   I've always liked Ethan Hawke as an actor. He's always turned in decent performances and has a charitable kind of low key charisma about him. He plays a washed up true crime writer here named Ellison Oswalt. Which is a pretty fantastic name for a movie character. I mean, I can't even tell you how many times I go to write a movie review and have to open the movie's IMDb page in another tab just so I can keep looking at the characters' names. They're always so damn forgettable. But, Ellison Oswalt? Damn. He could be a James Bond villain with a name like that. Anyways, Hawke turns in a pretty great performance, as does the rest of the cast- they're not remotely my problem with Sinister.

   Oswalt moves his family into a new house so that he can get a fresh perspective on his new book. What he doesn't tell his family is that their new house used to belong to the murder victims he's writing about. As if that wasn't bad enough, he finds a box in the attic labeled "Home movies". Inside are a bunch of 8mm film reels and a projector. Turns out... each reel is a snuff film, showing a family at play, and then eventually cutting to their gruesome demise. It's supremely disturbing material, and despite whatever issues I have with the movie... it truly excels when it's just Ellison watching these reels, looking for clues, becoming obsessed.

   In those scenes, Sinister is nothing short of fantastic. It's able to generate feelings of raw dread and nerve-jangling tension. It's the direction the story goes that ends up ridiculous and it lost me entirely. See, these aren't just snuff films. There's an occult angle to this, but a deep, dark, and ancient occult angle. So far, so good. I was still hooked, but then the third act twist shunted the antagonist's mantle off of this boogieman presence the film had been building up, and places it elsewhere. I wasn't fond of that twist. Not because I dislike sad endings or any crap like that, but because it undercut the intensity of what they were building up to.

   I know the twist was supposed to be disturbing, but it just came off as silly to me. I know they were actually trying to avoid cliche, but they picked the wrong friggin act to do that in. Throughout the movie, whenever we're not locked away in Ellison's office, watching him obsess over the reels, his charts, and fervent Google searches, the movie sells out for cheap scares. Creaky floors, dark corners, and anti-climactic jump scares. Only in the last act did they try to pull some unconventional crap with the story, and in my humble opinion... it backfired. A much more conventional third act would've been preferable.

   Regardless, there's plenty of creepiness in Sinister to merit a watch. The more I think about the last act, the less I like it, but the movie overall was't bad. It was well made and engaging throughout. Good acting, good production design, and a hell of a boogieman bad guy to boot. I was so into the first 2/3rds of the movie that I was ready to start waving it's banner, but I can only give it a half-hearted recommendation. It's not great, it's not bad. It's good. It's alright. I think my friend put it best when he said "It's fine." That's exceptionally accurate. Sinister is fine. I loved parts of it, and severely disliked other aspects. So yeah. It's fine.

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