Movie Review: Sinister
It’s October, the month for moonlit nights highlighting bare, skeletal branches creaking in the cool autumn winds, and of course, it’s the month for Halloween and horror movies.
I’ll talk about my favorite scary movies in a later post. For right now, I’d like to focus on the one we saw Friday night.
In Sinister, a true crime writer (Ethan Hawke) is doing research for his latest novel. This involves moving his family into the town where the crime took place. The crime in question was the ritualistic murder of a family, and we find out pretty quickly that the murder didn’t just take place in the town, it happened in our protagonist family’s new back yard.
Hawke’s character finds a box in the attic of what appears to be home movies on super 8 film. He’s pleased about this, thinking it will give him an insight to the dead family. He’s horrified (and yet somewhat excited) to discover these films include not only the murder of his subject family, but additional murders. Oh, and there’s a creepy Michael Jackson-esque face appearing in each of the films. Booga booga.
That’s what we see in the previews. There’s talk from a presumed expert about the dangers of seeing such evil and how children are especially susceptible. Given that, I was eager to see the movie.
I should have watched the previews more closely. The fictional expert was right about what happens when one watches these acts. They get in your head and they don’t leave.
The movie begins with one of the Super 8 films. It shows, in brutal, graphic detail, the family being murdered. They were hung, together, in the back yard. We in the audience, watch every painful second of kicking and struggling. It’s silent, but one could imagine the choked screams. My first thought was, That’s something you can’t un-see.
I could have tolerated that awful scene had it been the only one. I’m okay with violence and gore in horror films, generally because there is a supernatural element as a buffer. We all know that zombies aren’t going to break down our front doors and that scary ass ghost women aren’t going to appear in the upper corner of our bedrooms. I don’t like “realistic” horror movies. Call them torture porn, since that’s pretty much what they are. The Saw movies are an example of this. Then there was the movie Hostel. Ugh.
I like to be scared. I like to hesitate when entering a darkened room and straining my eyes to see any movement in that darkness. (my cats have startled me a few times under those circumstances) I like that feeling that perhaps something evil is there, just over my shoulder, but I don’t want to watch torture.
That being said, Sinister didn’t scare me. It disturbed me. In the torture porn tradition, it showed graphic murders in full detail. The super 8 “home movies” were all snuff films. I have never, in my life, wanted to watch a snuff film. That’s the kind of thing, like the opening scene, that once you have in your head, you can’t get it out. It’s not scary, it’s unsettling and disgusting. There was no buffer, supernatural or otherwise. It was designed to be upsetting.
There were plenty of cheesy, “make the audience jump” moments. The best of which was when the evil face on the computer moved while our oblivious hero looked in the opposite direction. The worst: when one of the kids, in the grips of a night terror, contorted himself, unrealistically sliding backwards out of a box. (No spoiler here, this scene was in the preview) There were creepy little ghost kids – so many that they became overdone and not scary anymore at all. The characters were all fairly unlikeable and the idea of them dying a horrible death didn’t bother me much.
One thing the producers got right was the music. That is, if you can even call it music. It was a series of jarring, disjointed sounds that were nearly as unsettling as the scenes played out on the screen.
To sum up, Sinister wasn’t scary. It was disturbing. It dragged in several places. The supernatural element was more of an afterthought, and the plot was as lazy as the protagonists’ research habits appeared to be. I’d like to have my two hours and twenty plus dollars back. Most of all, I’d like those snuff film scenes out of my head. I could have happily lived without seeing this movie, and I recommend that you do exactly that.