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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.11.12] horror



It's little surprise that some of the most popular cell phone apps are camera apps that add retro effects to images. There's something inherently cool about the retro look of photographs but there's also something creepy about retro film, especially 16mm film that was at one point the go-to for home movies. The creep factor doesn't so much come in with the images but the very fact of how you have to watch the movies: in the dark, reflected on a bed sheet or blank wall, with the motor of the projector making a humming noise and the reels turning... it doesn't take much for the scene to be transformed from every-day to horror movie so it's particularly surprising that Sinister is the first horror movie I've seen of late that makes use of home movies as an essential part of the story. But the mystery at the centre of Sinister starts long before the home videos make an appearance.

Ellison Oswalt is a true crime writer. It appears the profession isn't by choice but rather by chance after a failed career as a fiction writer led him to a true crime story that changed his life. He's been chasing other stories ever since and his new writing career hasn't been particularly easy with books selling but nothing achieving the same success as his big hit "Kentucky Blood." His new book takes him to Pennsylvania to research the case of a family who were killed in their backyard, all members except the youngest daughter who wasn't among the rest of the family. Ellison is convinced he can figure out not only who committed the crime but where the little girl has gone but few people are interested or willing to help him. His family wants nothing more than to return home and the local cops, with the exception of Constable So and So, want nothing to do with a writer who makes their profession look incompetent.


Ellison is determined, more like desperate, to return to his previous success and when he finds a box of old home movies in the attic, things really take a turn for the worst, revealing a mystery that stretches far beyond Pennsylvania and uncovers an ancient evil that can't be outrun. Except now Ellison and his family are in the crosshairs with no way to escape.

Sinister offers up a few new ideas and borrows from some classic horror movie tropes and the mix of the two is generally successful. Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) has a great feel for mood and Sinister more than delivers on a heightened sense of dread. There are a few jump scares here and there but the movie excels on simply building tension so that every image and sound, not to mention the slightest move of the camera or the way in which it often lingers on a scene, only heightens expectation. It helps that Ethan Hawke is committed to the role and for the movie's second half, he seems as scared as we are. Definitely not attractive but effective in selling the tale which Derrickson and co writer C. Robert Cargill have put together.

It's refreshing to have a horror movie in time for Halloween that doesn't rely solely on jump scares or the gruesome to get the blood pumping and beyond setting great atmosphere ripe for more than a handful of scares, Sinister indulges by also interweaving into the plot a family drama that forces Ellison to consider what, if any, cost is too high to pay to regain his celebrity status. The ending is a little rushed and leaves the door open for unnecessary sequels to follow but Sinister stands as a solid horror movie.

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Rev Wright (7 years ago) Reply

Really, did we see that same film. It was silly, maybe touching on late 70s early 80s horror, but not really scary. Oh, except for the really obvious jumps, boring

Has anyone watched Session 9?

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Marina (7 years ago) Reply

Not a fair comparison. Session 9 is a masterpiece in comparison. I left satisfied. Certainly enjoyed it more than the last 4 SAW movies.

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Rev Wright (7 years ago) Reply

Maybe my expectations are high and I'm cool with that, as I direct, and would hope that I'm doing a good job at it ;)

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Mark (7 years ago) Reply

When are we going to get more films like Session 9? Still probably the one film that's ever really scared me.


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