It pleases me greatly to say that yes, in fact, Sinister did a pretty good job of freaking me out. Now before you get your hopes up, it wasn’t exactly a perfect film. It had it’s weak spots. But in all honestly, I had a pretty good time watching it.
The opening scene of the movie: a family stands near a tree with burlap sacks over their heads, hands bound. And that tree? Oh, it has ropes dangling from it…not just dangling, but actually looped around the unfortunate family’s necks. What’s this? The large branch on the right is lowering while the family rises into the air, kicking and trying to free themselves. And did I mention this is all happening in slow motion? And no “sound” of the family’s screams or the tree branch cracking. It’s more eerie that way. I would say that is pretty brutal indeed. I appreciated the somber opening. It set a tone for me as the viewer that this movie isn’t afraid to disturb it’s audience. We had people walk out of the theater after that scene when I saw it.
Our protagonist in this film is Ellison Oswalt (granted, that name is a little cray) a true crime writer who had his big 15 minutes of talk-show circuit fame 10 years ago. Perhaps it was fitting to cast Ethan Hawke in the roll. I haven’t really seen him in anything in what feels like 10 years myself. Anyway, Ellison has a British lady wife named Tracey and two moppet children, Ashley and Trevor. Ellison has just moved the fam into a house that is “involved” in the crime book he’s writing. He tells a fib to his wife who doesn’t like living close to murder scenes. In truth, the house is the same one we saw in the opening! That infamous tree they dangled from is just chilling in the backyard! It turns out there was one family member not there on that tree, the little girl. In fact, no one has seen her at all.
Ellison find a box labeled “Home Movies” hidden in the attic. The box contains grainy, gritty, super 8 reels of families being murdered a la the tree people from the opening! In fact- they have a reel as well. It’s aptly titled, “Family Hanging Out”. Our “killer” has a funny/punny sense of humor and labels all the movies in such a morbid fashion.
Let’s break for a moment to talk about Mr.Oswalt here. For those who didn’t like Micah in ‘Paranormal Activity” because you thought he was an ass, you’re gonna hate this fool. (I personally didn’t think Micah was that bad, but I’ve heard the argument, so spare me). Ellison apparently isn’t a good family man/provider type. They’ve now got mortgages on two homes. And the family is tired of moving. He can’t catch a big break like he did with his hit book and seems to be forever chasing that moment. He keeps a pretty liberal stash of whiskey in his office. He doesn’t like the police because he thinks he serves better justice to the victim’s families than the law enforcement investigating the case does. He doesn’t mind lying to his own wife and kids about moving into houses where murders took place, or in the past, right next door to the scene. Oh, did I mention when he finds the box of snuff film family murders, he doesn’t call the police! He wants to horde the evidence to get his next big break. Never mind the fact that some weirdo made these films and left them in a tidy box in the attic. They probably won’t be coming back for them…right?!? Oh, and don’t even get me started on Ellison’s douche-bag sweater. It’s apparently his favey-fave since he wears it in every scene. I knew immediately I didn’t like him on sweater choice alone.
Anyway, Ellison does get pretty shook up by the movies. He starts to sense something sinister is afoot. We get some much appreciated comic relief in the local Sheriff’s Deputy who happens to be a big fan of Oswalt’s books and wants to help him crack the case. Then add in a splash of Vincent D’Onofrio as a local Occult college professor we meet via skype. He tells Ellison that the symbol we see in all the home videos is the calling card of a fellow named Bughuul, an ancient Babylonian deity who eats kids. Or, at least eats their souls. Something unpleasant like that. What’s more, Bughuul himself can also be SEEN in every video turkey-lurking in the background! Does Ellison, the father of two children, let this deter him? Nay, nay! He keeps on his little quest. By the way, all that info was pretty much in the trailers for this film, so that shouldn’t really spoil anything. But, if you’re worried about reading too much more, feel free to stop here and come back to me after you watch it. Consider yourself SPOILER warned…
I don’t mind telling you, Bughuul’s little cameos in each reel are pretty creepy. He just looks so out of place as if he just happens to be standing there watching these people die. Ellison’s son Trevor apparently suffers from night terrors. These terrors are loud, scary, and rather disturbing. They were supposedly gone until moving into murder house. Don’t worry, Ellison doesn’t take this as yet another omigodweshouldleavelikerightnow warning! Then there is daughter Ashley. She is a budding artist and sweet ginger child. She also happens to be visited by the missing girl who comes to her as a rotted horror of a ghost. Don’t worry, Ellison still isn’t convinced to move yet.
Honestly, I was impressed with this as a widely released “hollywood” made horror movie. They didn’t really sugar coat the whole disturbing snuff film/super 8 movie thing. But at the same time, they didn’t over expose the whole thing either. I’m sure the filmmakers were skating on some thin ice with the little detail of children and their families being murdered or going missing. I know some viewers were mad and thought the videos could have been more graphic. But to be honest, I liked them as they were. Again, not the perfect film by any means. Many of you probably figured out the “twist” ending. But, watching some of those scenes gave me the heebie geebies. It was equal parts frustrating and foreboding to know that good ole Ellison wasn’t catching on to what was happening. I liked this take on the whole “found footage” thing. Is it fair to call found footage a genre at this point?? And this totally counts as a creepy kid movie too!! Especially when all the creepy kids are little rotted and sinster horrors 🙂