Sinister (2012), the latest horror from The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) director Scott Derrickson – who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay alongside C. Robert Cargill – manages to hold your interest for large stretches, but ultimately fails to sustain its initial promise through to the end. Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime novelist, and his long-suffering wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), along with their two kids, have just moved into a new home in a leafy suburb, where Ellison hopes to find the inspiration to work on his next novel.
What Ellison has failed to tell his beloved Tracy is that their dream home was recently the scene of the horrific murders of the last family to live there, and whose unsolved deaths Ellison plans to use as the basis for his new book. Exploring the attic of the house Ellison makes a discovery which though potentially giving clues to solve the mystery of the murders, could also result in something much worse for him and his family.
The word ‘sinister’ has multifarious definitions ranging from menacing to malignant, which could all adequately describe the overriding sense of unease that pervades this mainstream chiller which played to a packed house at this year’s Film4 FrightFest. Unfortunately for Sinister, these strengths are also its weakness. Though heavy on atmosphere it ultimately looses itself in recognisable old-school frights such as unaccountable noises at the dead of night and frequent rain lashed storms.
Questions such as how Tracy and the kids can sleep through the noise Ellison makes as he literally tears up the house during one particularly violent encounter he has with the ‘sinister’ elements at work in their home, go irritatingly unanswered. However, as a lack of any real depth is given to the main characters, the viewer is left distinctly nonplussed as to their ultimate fate anyway.
The term ‘sinister’ can also mean dire which, though perhaps a little harsh in relation to Derrickson’s latest, does give a hint to the feeling you’re left with after it has, or rather has not, concluded. In truth there is no solid finish, the end neither telling you who or what the ‘sinister’ element of the film really is. In relation to this it would be unfair to go into further detail without spoiling the atmospheric finale, as atmosphere is all that Sinister ultimately has in its favour.