Sinister (2012)

A collection of blood-curdling old-school-meets-new-school Blumhouse scares given the crown of (physiologically)-scariest movie ever made by science with classicism framework, dark ages iconography, sly themes, & deftly-told/well-acted E.H.-led crime mystery. 8.7/10.

Plot Synopsis: True-Crime writer Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) hasn’t had a NYT Bestseller in 10+ years and is becoming increasingly desperate for a hit. So, when he discovers the existence of a film showing the deaths of a family, he vows to solve the mystery. He moves his own family into the victims’ home and begins. However, when old film footage & other clues hint at the presence of a supernatural force, Ellison discovers a nightmarish pattern.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

Blumouse Goes To The Dark Ages

The Purge, Insidious, Happy Death Day, Get Out, Unfriended, Oculus, Us, Creep, & Now: What Science Calls The Scariest Movie Ever

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

The Scariest Movie Ever Made. At least, that’s what science says – a recent 2020 study analyzed the physiological patterns of people watching the all-time baddies of horror from The Thing to Halloween to Alien to Get Out, and they came to the conclusion (Full Article: https://tinyurl.com/y2bl4u3y). A prestigious title like that obviously soon-to-be plastered by Blumhouse on every bit of marketing for the film in All-Time categories is one that will likely draw criticism from the horror community: ‘HOW could it beat Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Shining?’ ‘It must be based on jump-scares rather than storytelling’ ‘Obviously, it’s modern-skewed’. However, not only is Sinister one of the best horror films ever made (despite, of course, not being nearly the same level as any of the aforementioned masterpieces), but it’s one of the scariest and best story-told. In fact, it even takes cues & inspiration from many of the classics and reimagines them – pumped with an adrenaline-pulsating BH-studio innovation scare-factor for a big thrill-ride through horror history that shows not only where we’ve come from, but where we’re going. A collection of blood-curdling old-school-meets-new-school Blumhouse scares like Exorcist-meets-The-Shining-meets-Children-Of-The-Corn-meets-Ju-On earning the crown of (physiologically)-scariest movie ever made given by Science – with a classicism framework in plot-resonant old projector film splices, dark ages iconography, crime mystery investigation, meta-genre juxtapositions, and Hawke-led performances/characters to care about.

A Textbook Establishment & Score

A Masterful Opener To Evoke Intense Fascination & Atmosphere Achieved Through A Dark, Tragic, Avant-Garde Soundscape

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

The opening scene of Sinister might be one of the best of its era. Establishment-wise, it’s a masterpiece sequence that sets the tone and atmospheric dread for the entire film: our senses are instantaneously-assaulted by the graphic sadism of watching a home video of family hanging themselves on a tree in the backyard – even children. The brutal imagism, clever use of slow-motion, extreme long-take, and cool blue-green palette cinematographically evokes a solemnity, timelessness, and shudderability that relaxes us into a state of death-like abdication: we’re forced to watch the pure horror of what’s on-screen with nothing to look away to for minutes as we have no choice but to (physically and metaphorically) surrender/acquiesce ourselves to what’s-to-come, and partly want to learn what just happened to this family to drive them to the ultimate point-of-no-return in such gruesome, videotaped fashion. The soundtrack mirrors the visual cues in lusciously-dark and rich pads tonalized into almost a brass-like drone that scrapes at our insides yet in a slow-BPM and atmospheric, gripping way – establishing themes for the rest of the soundtrack.. as well as the setting of the rest of the film. A diamond-in-the-rough in modern horror so rare, it’s practically non-existent is characters we actually care about, brought to life by strong A-list performances.

The Performances & Characterization

A Lost Art In Modern Horror: Characters We Actually Care About – Brought To Life By Forceful Performances Led By Hawke’s Crux

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

Listen, I get it: horror’s the most inexpensive and perhaps the physiologically-easiest genre of filmmaking to create; it costs but pennies to film something go quiet then jump-scare without VFX, budget, legions of extras, or more than primal instinctual acting to achieve in many cases – but purists we are still dream of a day back in mid-to-late 1900’s where craftsman cared equally about backstory characterization, casting, and performances as they did the thing that goes bump in the night. Sinister achieves that old-fashioned magic well: most of all, in its fantastic protagonist Ellison Oswald played by the impeccable Ethan Hawke. A has-been book writer chasing that elusive 15-minutes-of-fame he got but-a-taste of over a decade ago, he goes over-the-edge in pursuit of writing the greatest book ever made: moving into the very house where the family from the opening scene hung themselves horrifically in the backyard. Thematically, the film soars in smart exposition of weighty themes like the responsibility of crime media, effectiveness of policework, legacy, workaholics’ family dynamics, the dual-edged sword of ambition, and fame/money-vs.-happiness through the lens of its major character many will undoubtedly relate to. The rest of the performances & characters are great too: Rylance’s torn wife who doesn’t like what her husband does but (apparently) doesn’t want to get a job of her own to take burden off him to be the sole provider, D’addario’s rocker-preteen with night terrors, Fred Thompson’s proud small-town Sheriff, Vincent D’Onofrio as the uncredited professor on the occult, Ransone’s humorous bit of comic relief Deputy So-And-So, and all of the lost children (except Foley’s Ashley, as we’ll address later).

The Crime Scene Investigation

An Impressive Variety Of Genre-Jumps More Ambitious Than Plain Supernatural Horror As It Pieces Together A Complex Era Mystery

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

They all bow, though, to Hawke’s calculating, discreet, unjaded novel writer he brings to life by a clearly-experienced 4x Oscar-nom’d presence – as he gets into way over his head and what he thought possible in a complex mystery arc dating back to the Dark Ages. Our favorite part of the film is that it tackles so much more than just a run-of-the-mill umpteenth haunted house plot: it balances mystery, crime-drama, and found-footage subgenres gracefully as it pieces together an engaging investigation of what tragic fate befell its multiple families – and what happened to the little girl never-found? The inept cops of the small-town clearly-missed something (well, A LOT it turns out): a clear-cut criminology connection between the Stevensons and other families from throughout time and space, revealed by a box of Super 8 home movies in the attic not on tax records juxtaposing happy vignettes of family time with brutalized murders of each afterwards in progressively-sadistic ways. This is where the film transcends normal genre-boundaries and becomes really special: it supplies a collection of films within a film and reinvents the found-footage concept while still in a plot and thematically-resonant way. The sharp juxtaposition of happy-and-horror is one of the scariest things you can witness: each also giving the cinematography and score teams multiple chances to express themselves and their talents in each mini-film given separate construct within the overarching plotline. What begins as a box of films in the attic evolves into a canvas of pure found-footage terror evoking a number of questions about who made the films and why would someone do something so horrifying.

A Collection Of Films Within A Film

A Sharp Juxtaposision Of Saccharine Family Home Movies Into Beacons Of Demon Terror & Mix Of Wow Cinematography Techniques

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

Each scene/mini-film is a compelling horror piece on its own – showcasing more skill & effort in construction, cinematography, and skill than many in their entire project – as well an intense love and appreciation for the old-world process of filmmaking and attention to the hands of how film-splicing and projectors worked back-in-the-day any cinephile will extremely recognize and respect their paean syllogization. We see families and even other children be subjected to nightmare-level torture, being 1) hung from the rope-tree they were playing on a tire-rope from earlier, 2) tied to pool-chairs and drowned after a fun summer-day at the pool, 3) throat-slashed by butcher knives, 4) run over by a freaking lawn-mower (one of the best jump-scares I’ve seen.. OMG), 5) lit on fire trapped in the same car they took out to the lake on a family road-trip, and 6) axed to become wall-paint blood-splatters they forbade against coloring on the walls beforehand. Make no mistake about it: the horror here is on another level and will definitely make you keep the lights on at night for several nights after watching – making a strong case for why it deserves such accolades as given by science. Not only are the murders themselves horrific (10x more so being committed by children on their own families like The Shining in-reverse mixed with Children Of The Corn & Exorcist), but there is a demonic presence seen in the background of each murder seemingly influencing the actions: titled Mr. Boogie as each child draws the murder on a tablet after committing it.

The Horror

A Canvas Of Scares So Chilling, Effective, & Unforgettable, It Merits Its Lofty Accolades: Exorcist x The Shining x Ju-On x C.O.T.C.

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

The escalation he enacts pulling the strings behind-the-scenes is masterful, filled with dark iconography, mystery, intrigue, cliché-subversions of vexing tropes like attics and child-horror reimagined, and some of the best supernatural horror scenes likely in genre history (the box-delivery being our personal favorite, and of course: that final scene.) Towards the end, we finally learn who the ghoul-of-the-hour is: a Babylonian eater-of-children who tricks and influences children to kill their own families and impurify themselves to the point where he can abduct and take them into damnation engulfing their souls for all eternity. The decision to paint such a twisted, brutal, and sadistic child-murder figure instead of going classic demon or ghost-story like every other haunted house film does is brilliant – throwing apt shade at those who took the easy way out by the occult professor hired to even make sense of the strange markings and one-of-a-kind case behavior remarking that this isn’t a pentagram some death-metal band or misguided teenagers paint in blood to be edgy or piss off the Christians: this is an evil so potent, references to it can’t even be found unless by extensive background research into the subject by an expert. The antagonist himself is bloody terrifying-looking and somehow-looks directorial: fitting-and-ironic being basically a filmmaker himself in the most sadistic of ways watching families that move into homes he’s infected from afar and filming them secondhand before punching their child to film the finale.

The Finale

A Legendary Plot-Twist & Deftly-Told Tale That Subverts Haunted Rules & Finally Meets The Babylonian Eater-Of-Children

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

The cinematography even mimics this idea in constant shots off-center and from behind the main characters head like a predator stalking & furthering the horror by evoking an intense state of paranoia as he’s watching every moment – as well as a constanality of pitch-black darkness and evil iconography like scorpions and snakes that establish an overarching atmosphere of doom and dread pervasive we’re drenched in. There is even the darkest of meta-humour in it too in that epic finale: one that doesn’t conform to by-the-rules hauntfests by refusing to spare El’s family even after they’ve learned their lesson: the box reappearing with ‘extended director’s cuts’ before a plot-twist for the ages. When El hits the floor might be one of the premiere shocking moments: wherein we learn we’ve been misdirected the entire film and it was Ashley who was turned behind-the-scenes when we had our eyes on Trevor and Ellison the whole time, a wildly-effective 180 of storytelling that is one of the best Shyamalan-ic plot twists of the modern genre of scarefests. The addition of this Ju-On x Insidious plot-twist and the dark humour again to make remarks about El’s murder being how she’ll ‘make him famous again’ (where he won’t be able to enjoy it) and painting the walls with their blood-splatters breaking their one family rule of no art on the walls is the final piece of the puzzle – setting the stage for that masterpiece final-scene amongs the most visually and imagistically-striking horror scenes I’ve ever seen and a perfect end to a phenomenal supernatural tale. Well, almost.

Flaws

A Miscast Girl Actress For That Big Of A Role, The Presence Of Clichés (Though Reimagined), & Bad Taste Final Jump-Scare

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

Flaws in Sinister almost entirely center on its casting of the proverbial little girl inevitably to be turned: Claire Foley’s Ashley Oswalt. Foley is so miscast, I cannot understand it – even more bizarre being the only even remotely-bad casting in the film full of otherwise strong performances. She is just blah and packs none of the punch a character and plot-twist like that deserved: even from the beginning, she does not give the impression of purity and innocence that would’ve made the subversion (effective as it is due to a herculean magnificence of screenwriting, misdirection, and storytelling) 10x more effective and seems disinterested towards the end. The film does recycle many old genre clichés like child-horror, attics, haunted houses, and demonic scares that will elicit a few eye rolls just from sheer commonality across the genre (although they’re all ~entirely subverted so they get a pass from us). Finally, I hate that final jump scare frame to end the film after the box is restored in the attic of the Oswalt’s old mansion for the next poor soul to stumble across it – the film does SO well without the need for shameless and shallow jump-scares throughout and just got edited from a masterpiece ending it should’ve faded to black on with our antagonist walking off into the film’s blood-splattered hallways carrying his newest prey. WHY?! Leaves a bad taste in the mouth regressionarily reverting back to lowbrow/unevolved horror tropes.

Conclusion

The Scariest Movie Of The 21st Century?

The Old-School Meets New-School: A Deftly-Storytold, Thematically-Ambitious, Genre-Mixing, Strongly-Acted Blumhouse Scarefest That Earns The Bold Title Given By Science

Photograph Courtesy Of: Blumhouse Productions

Overall, Sinister is one of the scariest modern horror movies I’ve seen in a long time. Scott Derrickson has concocted an old school-meets-new school ghost thriller in every way possible: the film-spliced projector found-footage sequences, the genre clichés like attics/ghost-stories/child-horror/haunted-houses reimagined into a plot filled with diabolical and effective plot twists that subvert each nicely, dark ages iconography brought into the 21st century, clever intellectually-weighty themes like the drug of fame and legacy vs. sustenance, atmospheric escalation in supernatural scares, and character we *gasp* actually care about infused with life by strong Hawke-led performances. The quick-cut pacing and sharply-edited royal-blue-tinted camerawork adds modern edge, film within a film motif adds palpable bludgeoning scares through juxtaposition of golden-hued happy family moments and brutalized serial kills, demonic Babylonian child-eater antagonist design aptly-terrifying, and crime scene investigation plot far more ambitious in misdirection-riddled storytelling prowess far above almost all other ghost movies. If there are a couple of vexations, besides the everpresent hallmarks of horror every junkie and newcomer will immediately recognize (although they’re reinvented so they get a pass from us), it’s the ‘shh’ constanality, miscast girl child actress, and final frame being a exploitable jump-scare when the film does so well without the need for them beforehand – especially in that asylum-white blood-red painted walls legendary horror aesthetic sequence right before it. This is, of course, nitpicking a new age scarefest far above most of its genre-kin today. A collection of blood-curdling old-school-meets-new-school Blumhouse scares like Exorcist-meets-The-Shining-meets-Children-Of-The-Corn-meets-Ju-On earning the crown of (physiologically)-scariest movie ever made given by Science – with a classicism framework in plot-resonant old projector film splices, dark ages iconography, crime mystery investigation, meta-genre juxtapositions, and Hawke-led performances/characters to care about.

Official CLC Score: 8.7/10