Ethan Hawke stars in Scott Derrickson‘s Sinister, a haunted-house found-footage horror from the producer of Paranormal Activity and the writer-director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Hawke plays Ellison Oswald, a sucessful true crime novelist who moves to the location of the subject of his next book. After the sucess of a previous book, Kentucky Blood, Ellison is desperate to recapture that sucess for himelf and his family. Having not told his family who’s house they’ve just bought, they move into the former crime scene. When he finds a box of super 8 films and a projector in the attic, the beautiful new home and oncoming book quickly turns into a nightmare.
The house which is the setting for most of the story, was the site of a horrific quadruple hanging and a small child went missing. With no evidence or suspects, the police gave up on the case and are suspicious of Ellison’s arrival. The story almost develops a who-dunit type of story line with the initial supernatural events dressed up as paranoia, but stops short due to there being very few potential suspects and to move the story on.
The box of Super 8 reels contain footage of family gatherings punctuated by their untimely and brutal murders. It’s what Ellison’s been looking for but is even too much for him to bear at time. Meanwhile, his family are suffering from the effects of living in a house where the murders took place as well as the gossip from the tight knit small town community.
The plot has twists and turns and a boatload of scares. Most of them using the “quiet-quiet-quiet-LOUD NOISE!” technique, the loud noises come in a variety of shapes including incredibly loud foots steps, a mysterious orchestra of untuned violins and stock library horror screams. The family are unusually heavy sleepers and sleep through the loudest of bangs, screaming and panicking. Dispite these lazy scares, there are some genuinely creepy moments as we become a witness to the crimes that have been captured on film.
Ethan Hawke’s performance is the anchor of the piece. His relationships with his wife and children are natural and believable and Ellison remains likeable, even though he’s a drunk has-been who’s lied to his family and put them in grave danger.
The final revelation is a great twist but doesn’t provide any sort of resolution. Even though it doesn’t leave the effect the filmmakers probably wanted it to, it does tie up the story in an interesting and unpredictable way.
Sinister is an intelligent and well performed version of the found footage technique that brings new layers to the genre. The performances are brilliant and terrifying all round. Every shot is considered in a artistic sense and the filmmakers have left no stone unturned. There’s enough shocks to keep you on your toes and jumping out of your seats but enough sinister moments for the film to deserve it’s name.