31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #21 – Sinister (2012)

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Director: Scott Derrickson

Writer(s): C. Robert Cargill & Scott Derrickson

Studio/Distributor: Summit Entertainment/Momentum Pictures

Budget: $3m

Box Office: $77.7m

Release Date: 5 October, 2012

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Ethan Hawke – Ellison Oswalt

Juliet Rylance – Tracy

Fred Dalton Thompson – Sheriff

James Ransone – Deputy

Michael Hall D’Addario – Trevor

Nicholas King – Bughuul

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Washed up true crime writer Ellison Oswalt finds a box of super 8 home movies that suggest the murder he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose work dates back to the 1960s.

Inertia’s Insight

When the idea for your screenplay is based on your own nightmare, you’re already half way towards a decent horror film. The concept of creating a dreamlike horror led to Sinister, another low budget Blumhouse production that drew A-list talent in Ethan Hawke, in turn drawing audiences to the box office.

From the first frame this film establishes its tone. The long, agonising and horrific opening sequence, shot with super 8 film, is difficult to watch – and these are only the opening moments. The hideous music – if you can call it that – with the scratchy 8mm and soundless, agonising slow death of four people tied to a tree is uneasy to watch. Brutal, mysterious and intriguing from the off.

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True crime writer with the name to match his job, Ellison Oswalt relocates his family to investigate the murder of a family that he thinks will give him his next big story. The local police aren’t happy to have him here and his kids don’t want to be either, but Ellison continues to pursue the truth despite the grim reality he unearths with every new super 8 film he finds.

These super 8 films are what sets this film apart from your standard haunted house/demon after your kids story. They are so genuinely unsettling. The combination of handheld voyeuristic POV perspective, grainy 8mm film and jarring music allow these miniature snuff films to have such a unique effect. With each one they get worse, building to the lawnmower film in which Ethan Hawke’s genuine reaction says everything that we feel about these snuff films.

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But there are also some scary moments outside of these little films. Their son who suffers with night terrors seems to do a pretty good impression of Regan’s spider walk when he emerges from a box, and the scene with the slo-mo ghost kids is brilliant. It provides a fresh new angle on how ghosts move about a house, how they haunt and cause the floorboards to creak. Like a fucked up version of Marco Polo, it sees Ellison driven deeper into the madness that Bughuul brings to the families of his latest victim.

Derrickson perfectly balances the horror with the tension of a damn good thriller. The investigation into the murders builds steadily, with twists and turns unearthing the mystery behind the killings. It works just like a procedural, with the pursuit of the truth driving Ellison further from his family and fracturing their reality. Ethan Hawke is the standout here, not reducing his talents for the genre but rather utilising them to maximum effect.

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The twist is quite fucked up, following the dour tone that the film established from the outset (and revealed via the super 8 films). The ending is so downbeat. Derrickson shoots it with minimal light and long scenes with hardly any cuts. There’s no big reveal or great emphasis on the scene, making the events even harder to watch. Derrickson also plays down the focus on Bughuul (or Mr. Boogie as he’s referred to), instead focussing on him mainly in the super 8 films and drawings on the wall. It’s the right move, allowing the mere reference of him to instill more fear than any sighting of him could. Which is also probably a good job because he looks a bit like Seven from Slipknot…

A truly effective and indeed sinister horror film.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • Writer C. Robert Cargill got the idea for the script from a nightmare he had after watching The Ring
  • There is very little blood, almost no cursing and no sex, but the film still gained an R-rating
  • The super 8 films were actually filmed using super 8 cameras
  • Ethan Hawke had never seen the super 8 films prior to filming. His initial reactions made it in to the final film

Quotes

ASHLEY: Don’t worry, Daddy. I’ll make you famous again.


Tomorrow: Night #22 – Fright Night (1985)

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