Sunday, October 14, 2012

Review: Sinister

I walked into Sinister expecting a run of the mill horror movie that is thin on wit and plot and long on eerie ghostly images, rapid cuts, and cheap scares.  What I found was a film that is the polar opposite.  When you get past the run-of-the-mill premise of a gothic demon-type Boogieman as an antagonist, the plot of the film unfolds like an investigation narrative as Ethan Hawke’s protagonist tries to piece together the circumstances of an unsolved murder.  Unfortunately, though the film may be more cerebral and character driven than one would initially expect, the need to adhere to the mechanisms of the horror genre ultimately leads to its demise. 

The plot of the movie focuses on Ethan Hawke’s Ellison Oswalt, a novelist who has moved into a murder house with his family in order to investigate the details of those unsolved murders as the topic for his next novel.  When he stumbles upon a box of old home movies, he discovers there may be more to the murders and to the house than he bargained for.

To the credit of writer/director Scott Derrickson, the movie spends a good amount of time developing Hawke’s narcissistic struggling novelist and his effect on his family’s understated dysfunction.  Hawke does a good job of immersing himself into this character and fleshing out his obsessive nature as a vehicle to drive the whodunit portion of the plot.  This aspect of the movie is the part of that works best.  The pace, the framing, and the score come together to create a decent amount of natural tension.

What does not work so well is the gothic paranormal aspect of the movie.  The antagonist – the pagan demon Bughuul – is a shadow relegated to glimpses and images and far too passive a participant to the proceedings to ramp up the thrills in the same way that other horror film antagonists do.  Sure there are few chilling images, a couple of horrific acts, and some loud noises to make you jump in your seat, but the silent antagonist is not present enough to really make a mark in this film. 

Beyond Ethan Hawke, the rest of the cast is a mixed bag.  Juliet Rylance, as Hawke’s wife Tracy, oscillates between good and not-so-good from scene to scene in what can best be described as an uneven performance.  James Ransone, as the Deputy, likewise delivers a mixed bag of a performance though some of his scenes with Hawke are some of the best in the movie.  The two share a nice chemistry and some interesting verbal exchanges, which may or may not have been unintentionally funny.

The cast also features a number of child actors including Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, and Victoria Leigh and unfortunately, none of their performances really stand out.  For reasons that become apparent while watching the film, the work of the younger members of the cast is paramount to the tone and tenor of the movie and thus their respective lackluster turns truly serve as a detriment to the production

So when you put it all together, what you have is a movie that isn’t suspenseful enough to be a good horror movie and not quite clever enough to be a legitimate whodunit narrative.  With mediocre acting and run-of-the-mill cinematography, there really is nothing in this movie to really latch on to.  Is this the worst horror movie ever made?  No.  But I suspect that if you find yourself looking for a film to get you in the mood for the Halloween season, this one probably won’t make it onto your radar.  When it comes to the horror genre, fans ask for so little.  Sinister obliges by not delivering very much.  So take a pass on this one.

Standout Performance:  If anyone deserves in this film, I guess it’s Ethan Hawke.  He gives it a good effort even though he isn’t given much to work with.