In this horror tale, Ethan Hawke plays a true crime writer who had a big hit book ten years ago, but has subsequently struggled to produce anything noteworthy. Feeling forced to relocate to a cheaper residence; he decides to move his family – unbeknownst to them – into a house that hosted a notorious murder of the previous tenants.
It’s the first act of probable but uncertain selfishness by the husband and father. Throughout the films he insists that he is only trying to write the best story he can for the security of his family, rather than personal fame, but his actions often suggest otherwise.
Soon after arriving, he discovers a mysterious box in the attic labelled ‘home movies’. It contains a number of reels of super 8 film and a projector. Intrigued, he decides to view them, only to discover that they all contain footage of families being murdered by an unseen camera operator.
This found footage element does not, fortunately, make ‘Sinister’ the latest addition to this increasingly tiresome horror subgenre. By presenting the reels to the audience as a character views them, ‘Sinister’ opens up several possibilities for itself. Firstly, with the use of effectively creepy music, a lack of a talking cameraman, and also in that it allows Hawke to rewind and pause, as he searches for clues to the killer. All of which greatly improves the grainy old footage’s chill factor.
As he tends to do his work at night, Hawke spends a great deal of time alone on the screen. A challenge the actor is up to, as he convincingly shows us a man becoming more obsessed with finding the truth behind the horrors, when he probably knows he shouldn’t.
‘Sinister’ does manage to have its audience uncertain to where it’s going at times, and teases us for a while as to whether it’s going the supernatural route or not, a choice which enables its best and most memorable frights.
However, while an above average horror in many ways, it is not beyond using certain well known horror techniques. A sub-plot involving the son leads to a couple of early red-herrings, and while Hawke does not act much like a teenager when searching the house after hearing strange noises, he seems totally averse to simply turning the lights on, instead wandering around with a hand held light.
It’s not afraid to go the distance though, and doesn’t cop out with the ending like it could have.