Review: “Sinister” could scare more if it weren’t so predictable

October 12th, 2012 at 12:01 am by under Entertainment

There’s a new bad guy this Halloween movie season (sort of), from the makers of recent horror hits, and it wanted to be the scariest movie I’ve seen in awhile… but it falls short.

WARNING TO PARENTS: This movie is Rated R for “disturbing violent images and some terror” … its the stuff of nightmares for kids… so don’t let them in by accident or bring them along because you don’t have childcare… find a babysitter… or good luck getting any sleep for awhile.

“Sinister” poster courtesy Summit Entertainment

(My spoiler-free review)

While the premise of “Sinister” and its true-crime novelist lead character Ellison are good and the movie is pretty clever with its red herrings and building up to scares through the early scenes of the movie… it then it follows a familiar cookie cutter pattern of other horror movies… and … while its production values are strong, the production also lends itself to predictability.

I’ve mentioned before, and I will again, that the horror genre is the one I like the least… so in general, I only tend to like these kinds of movies if they are original and/or very well done.  “Sinister” was good but unfortunately, not great… because it wasn’t completely original or very well done.

Let’s start with the acting – you’ve got Oscar nominated Ethan Hawke and Fred Dalton Thompson (SAG award nominee) – and a bunch of unknowns … something expected in a horror movie.  As good as Hawke keeps our attention as the writer who tries to solve a murder by delving into some dark secrets… much of the dialogue is weak, corny, or pedestrian… which is odd for a story about a writer.  He says things like “run along and make sure you have the lunch mom packed”.  And we keep getting this idea that he’s only making these decisions because of the bad economy.  Do people only make horror genre-esque decisions in a bad economy?   I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a character go into a dark/dangerous room by themselves before when the audience knows they shouldn’t go in during the 1980′s when the economy was booming.  Its the new cliche – the economy is bad, but don’t make it a scapegoat for bad dramatic irony.

The strength of this movie was the scary elements.   I think that someone came up with the idea and had a brainstorm of scary things to show the audience – which are powerful and made many audience members jump/squeal at my screening.  The problem is the story and the script that tries to weave these scary elements together is such a thin web barely holding everything together.  Unfortunately some of the scares are those “gotcha” scares and right on the edge of being campy.

The production values are very good, not distracting – its well shot, the “old footage” was well conceived and executed, there’s an appropriately eerie soundtrack.  However, these strong production elements also add to to some of the predictability – the change in music, the camera angles and close-ups where something spooky suddenly appears behind them… I’ve seen this all before… in different packaging.  There are clear themes of night and day (dark/light), plus supernatural tension juxtaposed with marital tension and those aforementioned red herrings that will keep you off balance.

So is it scary?

I think “Sinister” will scare you… if you let yourself get scared.  If you get drawn into the setting of a house, a family, creaky boards, an unsolved murder/missing child case, fog, darkness, the supernatural, the dead, grisly murders, a guy who apparently is so thrifty that he can’t turn the lights on in the middle of the night even when is spooked by “things that go bump in the night”… then you can certainly get some chills … or even get scared off the edge of your seat.

“Sinister” does well in building up the suspense… freaking us out…. then lets us back down to a level of an average family drama.  I like that it slowly ups the scares as the movie goes on, making it more intense as we move along, I also like the frequent comic relief after the scares or tension.  But there’s also a very similar formula to other movies in the horror genre that make this movie predictable.

The sinister element of this movie is on one hand scary – but at the same time not as polished of a scare as others we’ve seen – easily seeing a person in costume, not something I can’t rationally explain – and therefore I am not crippled with fear from.  Its the concept of this sinister that is scary, not the way it is portrayed in this movie.  If the filmmakers would have taken a less is more approach to the sinister element, it may have been spooky… but the more we see it, it loses its power and nightmare potential.   While it would certainly give children nightmares (and first time horror moviegoers) – those of us who have seen a few of these movies are not likely to stay up at night trying to get the horror out of our mind and stop the goosebumps from coming back every time we think of a certain scene.

Which is why I think it would be better if you considered it as a R-rated thriller with supernatural scares – because as much as “Sinister” thinks its about the scares, its about the audience following along with the mystery that Ellison (Hawke) is trying to solve with the help of his trusty deputy so and so.


This is not the next pop cultural phenomenon – DON”T EXPECT “PARANORMAL ACTIVITY” OR “THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT” – its not the kind of movie you’re gonna have to see because “everyone is talking about it”… I give it 6.5 out of 10 … you don’t have to rush out and see it opening weekend…. you could even wait to see it… at home… but probably with a light on.

At this point, I would rank it 35th of the scariest movies I’ve seen… but I know there are many I have not seen yet.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

Ethan Hawke in “Sinister” photo courtesy Summit Entertainment


(2012) (rated: R for disturbing violent images and some terror)
(1 hr, 50 min)

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, Vincent D’Onofrio

Director: Scott Derrickson ["The Day the Earth Stood Still" (2008), "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" (2005), "Hellraiser: Inferno" (2000)]

Producer: Jason Blum [all 4 "Paranormal Activity" movies, "Insidious" (2010)]

Genre: Horror/Thriller

The Plot: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

“Sinister” poster and photo courtesy Summit Entertainment

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