Chilling the atmosphere to a creepy degree, Sinister serves genuine horror to its audience mostly induced from conjured imagination. Writer Director Scott Derrickson (of The Exorcism of Emily Rose fame) takes manages to derive at an original production featuring found-footage and classic horror house concepts despite certain fixed genre variables. With a hair-standing sound stage and soundtrack, Halloween comes early with a good scare.
Sinister is a frightening new thriller from the producer of the Paranormal Activity films and the writer-director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror.
Horror genre has transcended over the past century or so from classic fantasy horror icons Frankenstein, Dracula to supernatural themes involving demons and exorcism. Subsequently, "slasher" films and zombie flicks invade the cinemas to haunt people until the contemporary preference points towards the lately popular found-footage genre.
A number of filmmakers have attempted to pay homage to classic horror styles with a revamp on contemporary influences. In Sinister, filmmakers have similarly executed the production of found-footage film material with classic horror techniques. This makes for a rather original fuse of contemporary genre references with conventional genre chills and scares as well as a climatic plot-twist.
The opening starts with none other than a raw footage snippet depicting the process of a family of four succumbing to their gasping demise as they are hung up by their necks on a tree. Nothing further is detailed, not even any text overlays so as to allow the audience to take the imagery in for thoughts, as the film shortly continues on with a writer's family moving in to a new house in a new neighbourhood, where the grisly death of four took place. Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is intending to pursue beyond his previous book success with the hopes of unveiling some juicy information behind the unexplained mystery by staying in the house. Soon enough, he discovers a box of Super 8 film footage waiting for his perusal within the attic.
While the story remains vaguely abstract and under-detailed, it is probably debatable as to whether it poses a technical challenge to the audience towards a better appreciation. Much of the film is driven by the depiction of Super 8 film footage along with a compelling performance by Ethan Hawke as its central protagonist Ellison Oswalt, a crime writer who yearns to reveal bold truth behind gruesome deaths and struggles to justify his acts against the welfare of his family relationship. In a way, the filmmakers do not place much influence over the revelation of its plotted horror and instead allow onscreen development to swirl the audience in accordance to their imagination. Thus, the film's conclusive chapter may either complement or frustrate for various opinions but this one opines that the story is better left intact without justifying accounts to align itself with its overall play of imagination.
What sets this film different from most others is the way it generates a chiller with intense atmospheric values via quality visual and aural treatment. While found footage films similarly allows one to interpret plot and horror from the raw footage that they see and hear, nothing beats a heightened experience with technically enhanced eerie sound design and lighting.
It is after all, the best way to enjoy a horror film at the theatres with good picture and sound experience.
For instance, the Super 8 footage review sequences take up a fair amount of reel time and is one of the key drivers behind the foundation of the gradually dense atmosphere of dread and gripping discomfort (meant in a good way). Here, the footage depicts disturbing death sequences of five families and are used to burn haunting impressions within the audience's mind. This also includes images of unexplained phenomena that soon point towards its supernatural theme of intent, but no further elaborations to prevent spoilers.
The sound design stage (by Dane A. Davis and Marc Aramian) is set to emphasise the midnight house bumps that never fail to haunt and upset whoever hears of it. It's a typical genre deliverable that is all too familiar but here it instills claustrophobic fear as the protagonist investigates the source of loud thumps and creaking wooden floorboards within the house. It somewhat reminds one of the recent Insidious on a side note, though Sinister focuses a lot more on the induced fear by the bumps.
The photography (by Chris Norr) adopts a very dim light and it is often observed that Ellison confronts and walks into near pitch darkness and allows viewers' imagination to run wild. The camera's perspective of Ellison is also effective as it provides sufficient mix of tight closeups and wide shots of space to taunt further.
Though featuring a couple of signature jump moments, at times it does seem to occur that there is a slight amount of over reliance on loud sound for blatant scares. If otherwise, Sinister has proved to be one of the most rivetting horror films this year as a benchmark ahead of other potential candidates (i.e. Paranormal Activity 4) as Halloween creeps nearer.