Sinister was one of those horror films that seemingly came out of nowhere to become a sizeable theatrical hit. Clearly word-of-mouth—the make-or-break for horror films—was positive, and for good reason. Out on Blu-ray on Feb. 19, Sinister is one of the better pieces of horror cinema to come down the pike in recent years—a go-for-the-throat, in-your-face scarefest that doesn’t pull punches or dilute its shocks to tone things down for a PG-13 rating.
Nope, Sinister is an old-school R-rated chiller that has more in common with the tone and style of 1970s classics like The Exorcist or Burnt Offerings than the torture porn (typified by the Saw franchise) or found-footage flicks (a la Paranormal Activity) of the 2000s. Sinister does have some found footage—in fact, its story is all about finding footage—but it goes deeper, and hits harder.
Ethan Hawke toplines Sinister, playing Ellison Oswalt, a crime writer who, researching the murder of a family in the house where it happened, finds a box of films in the attic. The home movies show the murder in question, as well as other seemingly unrelated ones, and as Oswalt delves further into the mystery and learns what (and who) is the common bond of these killings, things at home go awry for him. His young son and daughter have incidents indicating they are somehow being affected by the house and what happened there. And his wife isn’t too crazy about any of it.
Oswalt’s growing obsession with the films and what it all means recalls Gene Hackman’s wiretap expert in The Conversation, whose life was overtaken by something he wanted to ignore but couldn’t. And the big secret behind what’s going on in Sinister? Well, I won’t spoil it for you. I will say it’s a rewarding payoff in the best horror tradition. You won’t leave this film feeling happy, but it is satisfying in its way. Questions are answered, but with enough ambiguity and questions raised that Sinister 2 can’t be far away, and there is certainly potent material to be addressed for a potential franchise.
Director Scott Derrickson (who also made the excellent 2005 chiller The Exorcism of Emily Rose) guides the proceedings here with an assured hand. There are some jump-scare-startle moments, to be sure, but the overwhelming tone here is a sense of impending doom—we share what Hawke’s character is going through.
Sinister arrives on Blu-ray with a sharp transfer, but the sound is especially mesmerizing and impactful. The music of horror veteran Christopher Young combines weird instrumentation with sound effects and contemporary touches for a unique mix that strengthens the scares. Visually, the film does get dark—so dark at some points that it was hard to make out what was going on—but this is a film all about dark, and sometimes the ambiguity seems purposeful, to enhance the mystery.
Bonus features include two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and a featurette on “Living in a House of Death.” The Blu-ray includes Digital Copy and Ultraviolet versions.
All in all, a very worthy horror entry, one that is potentially the start of a horror franchise offering substance to go all with the scares.Buy Sinister [Blu-ray] on Amazon