Eager for another bestseller a writer moves his family to another town where a series of murders has taken place to research his next book. However, he uncovers something more terrifying than he can put to paper, namely Mr. Boogieman.
With a family hanging from a tree in the opening shot you know that Sinister is not pulling any punches. Rather than focusing on other worldly phantoms like Insidious (2010) (by the same producer Jason Blum), Sinister is more grounded even if still essentially a supernatural thriller. Thankfully, the now common place in horror found footage aspect is not focal in the traditional sense and is a product to move the intriguing premise forward.
Director Scott Derrickson along with writers Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill deliver an absorbing slow build up with the main flawed, borderline alcoholic character Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke). Derrickson with director of photography Chris Norr give the film a innovative look, it's dark - very dark, with inky blacks, depth and shadows always on display. In all its boldly minimally lit going against convention creating some real ominous atmosphere. The production is tight and sharply edited by Frédéric Thoraval.
With all you'd want there's haunting moving images and figures, creepy super 8 footage, spooky photos, a series of snuff films, local snooping cops and a concerned wife to name few. Although part murder mystery, Sinister is full of horror. Clever directing and lighting allows the viewer to make discoveries at the same time as Hawke and the sound design and visuals present several effective jump scares.
Sinister's bonus is that it's well acted for the genre. Both Professor Jonas Vincent D'Onofrio and Fred Thompson as the Sheriff are natural and to Cargill and Derrickson's credit certainly character wise tries to go against predicable. The eerie Mr. Boogieman's appearance is limited and part of a larger mythology avoiding the need for a typical showdown which has been done to death in many horror films. There's not an annoying child actor in sight. I can't put my finger on it but Juliet Rylance while a good actress playing the down to earth wife and mother Tracy feels slightly out of place, possibly miscast. Notable is James Ransone as quirky concerned cop Deputy So-And-So. Hawke is on fine form - in what could have been stereotype writer going mad but plays it perfectly balanced and convincingly from the outset. He becomes desperate as the film becomes increasingly paranormal and the ancient demon reverence becomes prevalent. Debatably not since The Shining (1980) and Stir of Echoes (1999) has a male horror lead character been as interesting. You warm the guy despite his faults and you care about his fate.
As it unfolds clichés rear their heads, a child's drawings on a wall, ghosts and so on but it all done in a naturalistic fashion with outstanding special visual effects. Again the special effects are not just for effects sake and fit within the scenes. There's an especially creepy scene when Oswalt investigates the noises in his house armed with a baseball bat but cannot see the sounds origins.
It has a tight story and although the downbeat ending while well done leaves you a little empty. You feel there is going to be an inevitable sequel but you really wish they'd leave it neatly wrapped up. While Sinister's elements may not be entirely original it encompasses, combines and defines satisfyingly ideas that other horrors of it's kind have failed to do.