Friday, 5 October 2012

Sinister (2012)

On general release in the UK today is SINISTER (the US has to wait another week for some reason). An undisputed success at FrightFest this year, and my own personal favourite of the festival, it's one of the scariest films I have seen in years, and possibly the scariest film I have ever seen in a cinema.
      Once-successful true-crime writer Ethan Hawke, with the hope of rekindling his writing mojo and creating another bestseller, moves his family into a house where something quite dreadful has happened. We know it has because it's the opening shot of the film. In fuzzy Super 8mm we see most of the family who previously lived there hanged. It's a disturbing image and sets the tone well for what is to follow. Only one child from the famliy escaped this bizarre execution and now they have gone missing, which is part of the mystery Ethan hopes to solve. What he uncovers is something far more complex and far more frightening than he was expecting and soon his own family is threatened.
     I don't really want to say much more about the plot than that, mainly because I came to SINISTER cold. In fact it was worse than cold. 'From the producers of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS' says the poster, which had me bracing myself for at best the kind of bumpy-but-fun ghost train ride that INSIDIOUS was, and at worst the kind of hoary old rubbish that had me and the rest of the Bristol cinema audience I saw it with staring at the screen at the end of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in disbelief. "Is that it?" said someone a couple of rows in front of me at the time and murmurs of agreement quickly followed.
     SINISTER is MILES better than either of these films. What the poster doesn't say (in big letters anyway) is that it's directed by Scott Derrickson, whose THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE was an interesting courtroom drama horror picture (and there aren't many of those around) which was punctuated at regular intervals by flashback sequences that played like mini-tributes to the lavish visual style of a number of Italian horror directors, most notably a scene reminiscent of SUSPIRIA outside a university building and a beautiful, dreamlike, ethereal outdoor sequence that reminded me of Fulci's THE BEYOND. I only caught up with EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE because of SINISTER and on the basis of these two films Mr Derrickson needs to be on every discerning horror fan's radar for the foreseeable future.
      SINISTER, however, doesn't draw on film so much as literature for its inspiration. In fact I can't remember having seen so many images in a recent movie redolent of the 'corner of the retina' fiction of MR James. It's very difficult to create scenes of prolonged and sustained intensity in any movie, but SINISTER makes it look effortless, winding up the suspense with little more than a darkened corridor and the slightest hint of something lurking there.
     I've said enough. Go and see SINISTER. It's great, it's scary, and it terrified the hardcore FrightFest audience of which I am proud to say I was one. If nothing else, see it before the inevitable string of sequels diminish the impact of what is destimed to become a classic of the genre


  1. You have made a really compelling case in favour of this movie, and I would definitely try to watch it.