The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Sinister | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Sinister

Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Vincent D'Onofrio

Unbeknownst to his long suffering family, true crime writer Hawke has moved them into a house whose previous residents were brutally murdered. 
Last year's "Insidious" seems to have set off a trend of literal film titles, it's only a matter of time before we get a movie simply titled "Horror". Compared to "Insidious" this is a masterpiece but it's still merely average, frustratingly so as it does feature some interesting ideas. Ultimately it becomes the victim of the cliches of the genre.
Hawke seems to have relaunched himself as the go to guy for writers in disturbing situations, following his appearance earlier this year in "The Woman in the Fifth". He's practically playing the same character here but it's a role he plays quite well. Unlike Jack Nicholson in "The Shining", to which this owes a large debt, there's a noticable arc to his madness. The initial setup sees him the victim of some minor intimidation from the local Sheriff who disapproves of the negative portrayal of small-town cops in his books. His wife, Rylance, remarks on her difficulty fitting into to each new community due to Hawke's controversial reputation. Sadly these themes are never satisfyingly expounded on despite their originality. Derrickson would rather concentrate on the tired conventions of the haunted house genre.
If you've seen a handful of horror films you can't help but immediately see the strings this plot dangles from. Hawke has two kids, a twelve-ish boy and a girl, roughly eight years old. No prizes for guessing which of the kids will serve as a conduit for an evil spirit. It wouldn't be a haunted house flick of course without the professor of the local college who happens to be an expert in the occult, here played by D'Onofrio in a role literally phoned in through Skype.
The best spook house flicks have come up with a credible reason why the family stay in such a terrifying environment but "Sinister" struggles to convince us. Hawke is subjected to horrific experiences yet unbelievably brushes them off. He keeps it all from his family which is some feat given the loud racket every night which his wife happily sleeps through. Add to this his characterization as a bit of a cad and it's hard to care for him. We don't see enough of the effects on his family save the odd remark about kids drawing gruesome pictures in class.
To Derrickson's credit he does stage his scenes quite well but this good visual work is cancelled out by the terrible sound design and use of music. A large part of the movie features him watching Super 8 footage of grisly murders and each piece is accompanied by a piece of industrial music which recalls the worst of nineties horror. The effects laid over the shock moments sound ridiculous, at one point we're treated to a "Muahaha" noise which sounds like a parent jumping out of a wardrobe at their toddler. As is all too common now there's the usual disregard for the audience's intelligence with Hawke providing an aural commentary over images we can figure out for ourselves. (Or maybe it's so those too busy texting in the audience can keep up?) At one point a box of Super 8 films turns up in Hawke's attic. To a man we think "How did the box get there?" but Derrickson doesn't seem too confident in us so has Hawke write on a piece of paper "How did the box get there?", and for those at the back he speaks the line as he writes it. The poor make-up effects discredit the film also, making what should be creepy dead kids look more like suburban trick-or-treaters.
There's a decent horror movie in here but it needs a lot of editing, especially in the sound department. Maybe the DVD will feature a cut not aimed at imbeciles.