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What made ‘Sinister,’ well… sinister?

What made ‘Sinister,’ well… sinister?

Everyone has a childhood horror movie that terrorizes our heads whenever the light suddenly switches off. Flicks from 2010 onwards give us classics that to this day do not fail to give us goosebumps. We have the eerie Paranormal Activity,  jumpscare-heavy Insidious, and the gripping I Saw the Devil. One particular movie,   however, disturbed me well enough that the fear got imprinted into my very core.

Sinister is a 2012 suspense/horror movie that aged quite great despite its somewhat passable rating on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. The movie follows the story of a true crime writer named Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) who moves his family into a new home in pursuit of a new book. However, as he begins to investigate the previous occupants of the house, he discovers a box of old home movies that contain footage of brutal murders. As Ellison soon realized that the films are connected to a series of unsolved killings and that he and his family are in grave danger. But from who?

Photo from IMDb

A sinister plot

Sinister’s story didn’t exactly revolutionize the genre in any sort of way, but it sure did a hell of an execution. We’ve seen mystery-based horror in the likes of Silence of the Lambs, The Mist, and the Asian terror that is The Ring. The plot entangles deeply with Ethan Hawke’s character as a desperate man in search of glory. We see his drive and passion for the disturbance that derailed everything in his life until that passion transformed into an obsession.

One of the other successes in this film comes in the form of Ellison’s familial situation. In pursuit of glory and success, Ellison tagged along with his family into a house where a disturbing crime occurred. The kicker is he hasn’t told his wife that they are living under the roof of a recently deceased family. Ellison was already hooked on the case when crap hit the fan. Juliet Rylance’s performance as Tracy Oswalt delivers the grounded reasoning Ellison negligently disregards. Her frustration is our frustration as the audience, as we witness just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Their back and forth as husband and wife reminds us of the stakes Ellison has continued the investigation and provides depth as to how much Ellison spun out of reality.

Atmosphere building

Another reason why Sinister is such an effective horror movie is its atmosphere. Dark corners and eerie emptiness embrace the creepy old house with hidden secrets.  We know that people died in the house -that’s basically the point of the first minute of the movie. The house controlled how the film felt, a setting where 70% of the film was shot. The cinematography and lighting emphasized a great effect to create an eerie and suspenseful atmosphere. Ellison embraced the shadows, and we can see him unraveling under their ominous control, both visually and literally. This, paired with Christoper Young’s goosebumps-inducing score, will absolutely scare the shit out of you. Sinister created an atmosphere where we feel unsafe and observed, a feeling we will have until the end of the movie.

We also have the Super 8 treatment for home movies, which purposefully disoriented a lot of its viewers. The nostalgia effect became a tool to disturb beyond generations and detail gruesome events with effective punches. It is not surprising that to this day, the clips in those home movies are the ones most remembered from the films. Especially that lawnmower scene.

Fatal flaws

Like any horror movie out there, Sinister’s tipping point took its incredible start to a generic finish. The film incredibly challenged my suspension of disbelief because of one thing: the supernatural. The demon and the children in the film weren’t purposed as characters or entities with high value. They were used as cheap scare tactics for shock and jumpscares. This wouldn’t be problematic if they were actually..sinister. These entities covered a huge chunk of the third act their presence need not be warranted anymore, if at all! It took out the mystery Ellison tries so hard to encapsulate that the film’s tightening chokehold became a warm embrace. 

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Still, Sinister did a great job captivating the audience to sit through a roller-coaster of absolute terror and dread. Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance performed brilliantly at every point of the film, serving as the audience medium for the experience. Both the sound and cinematography imprints fear and dread on its viewers, a rare occurrence by today’s horror standards.

Despite being a so-and-so film, Sinister delivers its namesake, well enough to keep the lights on for a few weeks and fear any sight of lawnmowers for the rest of your life.

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