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Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.
For more about Sinister and the Sinister Blu-ray release, see Sinister Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 18, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D'Addario, Juliet Rylance
» See full cast & crew
Sinister Blu-ray Review
Everyone knows home movies can be frightening, but this is ridiculous.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 18, 2013
Troubled writers have been something of a staple in a lot of horror films, probably most iconically in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. But there have been a raft of other thrillers featuring writing in some way, shape or form, including The Ninth Gate, Secret Window (both starring Johnny Depp) and The Number 23. (Interestingly, two of those films, The Shining and Secret Window, were culled from the works of Stephen King, himself an individual who rather neatly combines writing, troubled or otherwise, and horror.) Sinister follows in these perhaps sometimes less than august footsteps, and if it is not exactly a masterpiece, it still has its fair share of sizable scares. The film actually kind of combines elements from some of the aforementioned films with a little nod to such fare as The Ring (a film which evidently helped to inspire this one), courtesy of some home movies which may in fact provide a portal for evil into our realm. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson has built up a fairly substantial oeuvre of horror offerings, including The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Sinister finds him exploiting some genre conventions with an impressive degree of nuance as well as some smart subterfuge (some viewers may guess at least some elements of the supposed "twist" ending, but that doesn't mean they won't be disturbed by it).
Many of us who were born southpaws are aware that the etymology of sinister includes a reference to "left leaning", including those who write with their left hands. It's hard to tell which hand an author is "writing" with when he's sitting at a computer keyboard, but it's soon evident that Sinister's main character Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) isn't, to purloin a joke about lefties, exactly in his right mind due to a long spell of writer's block. He may not in fact be as off the charts guano crazy as Jack Torrance in The Shining, but there's still a certain addled aspect about the character, especially when he decides the perfect antidote to not being able to come up with anything to write about is to move into a house where a grisly murder took place. That murder is seen early in the film courtesy of some grainy 8mm "home movie" footage where what seems to be an entire family is shown being hanged from a tree in the yard. The perpetrator of the crime is not easily visible in the old footage.
Many of the films listed above in the first paragraph feature a protagonist who becomes obsessed, either with his own writing or that of someone else. While all of these films dance around the idea of obsession, each property approaches the subject from radically different angles. Sinister portrays first Oswalt's curiosity about the murders which took place in his new home, which is then followed by intense curiosity when he finds a box of old home movies in the home's attic, all of which depict other equally hideous scenes of various families being murdered, which in turn leads to an almost psychotic focus on what he comes to believe (courtesy of some oh, so convenient plot machinations) is either a serial murderer or (gasp!) an evil spirit which is motivating the disturbing acts of violence.
Sinister has a lot going for it, at least insofar as this type of film goes, but it also has a couple of plodding devices that at least partially suck some of the horrific energy out of the film. The best part of Sinister is Ethan Hawke's character and his slowly developing compulsion to first watch and then figure out exactly what's going on in the 8mm home movies he finds. The home movies are in fact one of the spookier elements of the film, especially since we first see these families in calmer, happier times before literal jump cuts to their horrific ends. There's also a hideous feeling of helplessness as in most of the footage we see the soon to be murdered family members evidently drugged, bound and shackled, unable to even put up a fight.
The film has a plot device about kids from each of these families having disappeared after the murders, and while the ultimate resolution of this "mystery" is hackneyed and actually kind of silly, there are some undeniably creepy moments scattered throughout the film as Oswalt becomes more and more aware of what exactly happened to the kids and how in fact they may be much closer than he ever imagined. The biggest overall complaint some horror fans may have with Sinister is how frequently it resorts to what I would call "cheap scares," jump cuts with thudding low frequency effects and the like, when in fact the film is much more convincing in some of the ostensibly less "in your face" moments, as when Oswalt traipses around his house in the dead of night with a number of "ghosts" trailing his every move.
The film is to be commended for not going the typical route of having everyone around Oswalt disbelieve what he comes to understand is actually happening, and in fact for once, at least one of the police involved turns out not to be a nattering nincompoop, but someone who actually turns up some salient information. Some audience members may roll their eyes at Vincent D'Onofrio turning up as Professor Jonas, an expert in the demon that Oswalt believes he's dealing with. What ultimately tends to work against the film as a too rote plot device is the fact that the most important information gets to Oswalt too late, something that gives the film its undeniably punchy (and disturbing) final scenes, but which is upon further reflection a perhaps too coincidental state of affairs to ultimately be totally convincing.
Perhaps due to the simple fact that I watched it quite recently, in some ways Sinister reminded me a bit of the recent The Possession, especially in terms of both films' positing of an artifact (whether that be a home movie or a so-called Dybbuk box) influencing the behavior of kids, with a hapless father looking on in abject befuddlement. Also rather strangely, the film tonally had me thinking quite a bit of (the admittedly superior) Rosemary's Baby. In both films there is of course a manifest demonic element, but more importantly we're dealing with a supposed innocent who is involved in a situation totally beyond his or her control, a situation which they don't even fully understand until the closing moments of the film. If Rosemary's Baby was able to more artfully present the thin line between paranoia and a properly motivated fear, Sinister still offers some visceral scares within the context of a somewhat lesser demon than the one that inhabited the Polanski movie.
Sinister Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sinister is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Films and Summit Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. Regular readers of my reviews know I'm not an especially rabid fan of films digitally shot with HD cameras, not really liking their often flat and textureless appearance, but I have to say as far as these films go, Sinister looks largely spectacular. Even director Scott Derrickson takes HD cameras to task for looking too much like video and not enough like film in one of the two commentary tracks included on this Blu-ray, but his work here with DP Christopher Norr utilizing the Arri Alexa pops extremely well despite the film's overall very dark environments. Close-ups reveal abundant fine detail and colors, while intentionally muted, look very accurate (Derrickson also talks about his own personal "obsession" with color on his directorial commentary track). The high definition presentation occasionally falters in terms of shadow detail in the darkest elements, but that in fact only helps to achieve a scary mood.
Sinister Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Sinister features an extremely effective and moody loss DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that ably supports the film's growing sense of foreboding and dread. Some of this is due to pretty standard audio tricks like rumbling LFE to up the listener's anxiety (even when there's nothing particularly disturbing happening on screen), as well as Christopher Young's dissonant underscore. But there are some amazingly nuanced sound effects consistently utilized throughout the film. Listen, for example, during the sequence where a car is set on fire to the very subtle burst of minimal LFE as the blaze starts. It's incredibly effective because it's so understated. Fidelity is top notch, presenting dialogue, effects and score cleanly, clearly and extremely well prioritized. Surround activity is also very well rendered, with regular use of side and rear channels. Dynamic range is quite wide, but does tend to utilized gimmicks like sudden overpowering LFE to aurally shock the audience.
Sinister Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sinister Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Sinister is one of the more consistently moody horror films in recent memory, and that helps it overcome some of its more hackneyed plot devices. Hawke and the supporting cast are all quite good, and the film quickly establishes and then builds on a sense of impending doom. Sinister probably would have been better without its tendency to resort to cheap thrills some of the time, but the fundamentals in this film are quite strong and horror fans should certainly enjoy it. This Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic, and the supplementary features are quite good as well. Highly recommended.
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Sinister Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Sinister Blu-ray - December 3, 2012
Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate company, has officially announced and detailed its upcoming Blu-ray release of Scott Derrickson's latest film, Sinister (2012). The release will be available for purchase online and in stores across the United States on February ...
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