FrightFest 2012: ‘Sinister’ review


As mainstream US horrors go, Scott Derrickson’s latest twist on the found footage formula, Sinister (2012), provides an enjoyable ride of bumps-in-the-night thrills and spills. The traditionally solid Ethan Hawke stars as a true-crime writer (a clear link to his turn earlier this year in French psychological drama The Woman in the Fifth), who becomes embroiled in a nightmare that could cost him everything he holds dear.

Ellison (Hawke) has never managed to replicate the success of his early career. Desperate to once again write a bestseller, he purchases a house that was once the scene of a horrific murder – with the only survivor, a young girl, still missing. Causing controversy amongst the local police department who fear criticism, whilst also struggling to keep his family together under difficult circumstances, Ellison starts to feel the pressure. However, after delving deeper into the grisly murders, our writer begins to find inspiration for a new bestselling chiller – but at what price?

More-so than perhaps any other horror in the Film4 FrightFest programme, Sinister genuinely attempts to use found footage in a new and original way through the utilisation of a series of home movie reels. Importantly, there’s an intriguing twist to the central concept (no spoilers here), blending what’s happening in the reels with the action on-screen. This is what provides the film’s best jump-out-of-your-seat moments (every mainstream horror’s stock-in-trade), with Hawke also giving a solid lead performance as the cardigan-clad Ellison.

When William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) was first released in US cinemas, an urban myth sprang up amongst the American Christian right, who claimed that the actual print of the film was infected with evil – an idea that Sinister uses to its own advantage. Such ideas are not original, but they are enjoyable, and Derrickson does well to inject enough insight and innovation into proceedings in order to make the film work as a whole.

Sadly, much to the film’s detriment, there are far too many peaks and troughs between the drama of the daytime – when snippets of information are provided to generate the actual story – and the fear-sodden dread of nightfall. When the whir of the home projector kicks in, you quickly learn that you are in for ten minutes of bumps and bangs, that sadly become less effective and more predictable as the film’s narrative meanders on. As a slick US shocker, Sinister works well, nearly exploiting several genre tropes – whilst disappointing avoiding the risk of treading any new ground of its own.

From 23-27 August, CineVue will be reporting back from this year’s Film4 FrightFest with a bucket-load of gruesome reviews. For more of our festival coverage, simply follow this link.

Joe Walsh