"A true-crime writer finds a cache of 8mm home movies films that suggest the murder he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose career dates back to the 1960s."
I know, I know, "Another horror movie? I hate horror movies!" Well, this is the last one for a while okay? I promise. Granted, it's not like you all are particularly making any outcries about it. I guess it's fitting at least that the last horror movie I do in a while is a proper 'scary movie' then. Last time, we had a brief chat about how horror is so diverse - well, to classify this one, we are gonna call it a ghost story. When I say ghost story, I don't mean it is entirely to do with ghosts, but more that it feels like the kind of story that you would tell around a campfire to scare the pants off of your fellow campers. You know what though? It would do a pretty good job of it!
Every good campfire tale takes something that could be simple and everyday, but at some point over it's telling takes it into a dark and twisted path. Sinister is no exception to this, and it does unfortunately fall into a state that many people will know the ending before it is delivered well before that ending happens because of that fact. The plot we are given at the start is one that also has seen its fair share of use in the horror genre - a writer moves into a building with his family while writing a book, which just so happens to be the place where some murders happened some time prior.
Now, if you might be thinking this sounds a lot like The Shining , I guess I should mention the difference here (outside of course the size of the building and local environment and "psychic abilities") is that this particular man is writing a true crime book based on those murders. Yes, that's right folks. Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) wants to get rich, although he keeps telling himself and others that the real reason is how he wants justice for the deceased, so he moves into the house where four people were hung out back and one daughter went missing with his wife and two kids . Father of the year award, right? Hey, at least he doesn't flat out lie when he tells his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) that they didn't move into a house three doors down from a crime scene!
So, they move in, Ellison finds some old super-8 film and working projector in a box named "home movies" and although the tagging eludes to the fact that they have nothing really to do with each other, he feels the need to set up the (by movie-time) archaic projector to watch these movies. These movies, like any good ghost tale, are where the dark and scary twist happens - each movie is essentially a home movie like any family might have (if they had family that recorded them while hiding everywhere) that then ends as a snuff film. Ellison, upon finding all these tapes are snuff films, does what any sane person would do : calls the cops. Of course, then greed and the fact he's that guy takes over and he cancels his call so he can try and unravel the mystery all by his lonesome and turn it into a number 1 bestseller of a book!
Stupid move on his part - as an immediate result of further and further investigations into the case, Ellison ends up getting himself haunted by one Baghuul (or Mr. Boogie - played by Nicholas King), who happens to be a pagan deity that likes to eat children. This is all accentuated by the fact that his son is having incredibly fierce night terrors (and he also apparently sleepwalks beforehand) and tension builds between he and his wife after his daughter paints a picture of a dead girl on the wall (which leads to the wife learning about people dying in the house) and things do a pretty good job of spiraling upwards from there. There's a bit more of the plot I'd like to talk about, as I have a bit of a minor gripe with it, but since its ending-related I'll stow it behind this spoiler tag - be ye forewarned!
The problem here arises when we hit the climax moment of Ellisons journey: he has had enough, tells the wife to pack up and that they are all getting the heck out of there. The moment they succesfully make it home to their old house, you know something is going to happen (because the movie isn't over yet) but the tension and atmosphere from the other place is just completely gone. We get hit with another creepy twist that most people should have figured out (it's in a spoiler for a reason) - the missing kid(s) did it. How this is presented to us, however, is as though they assume we won't figure it out: Ellison re-finds the home movies box (this time with extra "directors cut" endings), which he pieces back together and then watches. The man was terrified of the entire situation, but he has no qualms watching extra footage? And of course, the ending we expected happens - with one kid being the killer, doing away with the family, and then editing the footage she took (with a super 8) before Mr. Boogie carries her into picture land.
To say any of these characters feel incredibly unique would be a lie, but at the same time to say that they weren't played well would be me underselling their acting abilities. The family feels like a family - the way they play off each other and react to things is all in character. Even the side-kicky deputy that want's to get his name in the new book is mostly believable (although he does come off as a bit strange as far as one would expect a deputy with that much schooling to be). Mr. Boogie doesn't really do any acting at all, consisting mostly of just either being there (in a picture) or a small amount of movement meant to shock the viewer. Wardrobe is nothing fantastic, although the "dead kids" have enough of a competent makeup job done on them to give that ghostly appearance for which they strived and the living folks all look as though they could be real people in fashions. The only real issue here is with the bogeyman himself, who in all honesty looks as though he's just a big fan of a metal band as opposed to something that is supposedly some child-eating pagan god. Then again, that's just my opinion man.
The entirety of this movie takes place within the property of the aforementioned house, or the second (Ellison's original) house. It helps keep the atmosphere, and keeps the movie grounded in reality (as any real good ghost story should) even when we spend the entire movie there (or on the lawn or yard). I guess I should clear that up, the entirety of the main movie takes place in those locations - the home video sections all take place in a different location for each.
As far as soundtrack goes, I wouldn't call this one pleasant but it does do it's job. The discordant noise is unnerving, and the audio queue of the projector flapping its film away help to give us warning of impending terror (or fake terror). Lines are delivered audibly and well - as mentioned before, the family dynamic here is incredibly believable, and it makes good use of its rather non-existent musical scores for atmosphere.
So in the end, what can I really say? Sinister is a great ghost story - if you are into letting a moving picture fill in for your imagination, then this one will be very enjoyable for you. Gore is incredibly limited in this movie - surprising considering that each of the home movies ends as a snuff film (the only real violence shown is blood on walls, or one video involving the cutting of throats). Although it doesn't show all the visceral details of parts removal or the likes, it does imply quite a bit of violence (people getting lawn mowed for example), and it certainly wouldn't be something everyone in the family should be watching - but I'm not here to tell you how to parent, I'm just here to tell you about a good campfire movie in the dark of the night, to make your friends think twice about the next time they think they see something strange in a photograph or movie...