I was a big fan of Sinister when it screened at FrightFest in London last August, where I found it to be the scariest film of the weekend. At a dedicated horrorfest that run 4.5 days, that’s no mean feat either! In the interests of full disclosure, I do count co-writer C. Robert Cargill as a friend, and writer-director Scott Derrickson as a friendly acquaintance, but that in no way sways my judgement of their work. Let’s face it, if their movie was rubbish I wouldn’t wanna be their friend anyway.
Now that Sinister is available on iTunes, I took the opportunity to re-watch it in the comfort of my own home, sharing the experience with my horror-loving girlfriend. While the impact was slightly lessened on second viewing, as I now knew where the story was taking us, it still successfully creates an incredibly creepy atmosphere and the 8mm home movie segments are fiercely uncomfortable to watch – not to mention incredibly well titled.
What I only noticed this time round is how the entire film takes place in and around the house. I don’t know why I had failed to notice this on first viewing, but with the number of visitors to the family home, you never feel that the family are on their own and not part of the community, despite the fact that the majority of the townsfolk are very vocal about their dislike of true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) and his work. The family is new to the area, and the children struggle at school, but you never see this happen, it’s all in the dialogue. The fact that you don’t notice is a testament to the script and the fine storytelling.
I do have problems with some of the film’s choices in the third act, and the decision it takes towards explaining what has happened to these families, specifically why and how they were murdered. I would have prefered the film to go in a different direction, but Sinister still builds to precisely the right conclusion, which while not overly predictable early on, is incredibly satisfying and really, the only logical way to end the film.
Ethan Hawke does good work here as the struggling writer, so desperate for another hit that he is willing to put his own family right in harm’s way in order to do so. Juliet Rylance strikes a nice balance as wife and mother Tracy, being neither overly critical and nagging of Ellison’s position, nor blindly supportive either. The children are fine, and handle a couple of the film’s scarier scenes admirably, but really it is the mood and unsettling atmospherics of Sinister that prove its biggest success.