Once-famous True Crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) has just moved his family into a new home to begin a new project. In the attic, he discovers mysterious Super 8 footage depicting how the family died as well as films showing the brutal slayings of other families in various, supposedly unconnected, parts of the country. Soon strange visions begin befalling Ellison, while his youngest daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) begins exhibiting odd tendencies that donít fit her typically perky and outgoing personality.
Hereís what I wrote about this one in my original theatrical review:
ďLess is more where it comes to director Scott Derricksonís latest fright fest Sinister, the absurdly tense shocker a definite step up from the filmmakerís previous efforts The Exorcism of Emily Rose and his misguided The Day the Earth Stood Still remake. Co-writing the script with newcomer C. Robert Cargill, the movie is a highly original horror flick that melds a somewhat traditional narrative with found-footage aesthetics transforming the picture into some weird, borderline unwieldy yet almost wholly compelling melding of The Shining and Paranormal Activity.
But is it scary? Thatís the question that still vexes me these many days after my initial viewing. I was tense. There was certainly some suspense. The dramatic elements of the story are surprisingly effective. Yet scared? I canít say that ever happened. There werenít any shivers going up my spine, no Goosebumps slowly crawling up my skin. As unhinged as Ellison becomes over the course of the film and as creeped out as his family ends up being fear is rarely, if ever, generated by the proceedings, making the filmís standing within the horror genre precarious at best.
The reasons for this are few but also bluntly obvious. The truth of the matter is, once the playing field is set, once the dynamics are known, there really is only one place the story can ultimately head to, making surprises few any sense of shock and awe rather invisible. As ghost stories, haunted house experiences or tales of possession are concerned, this one doesnít exactly tread new ground or try to change the game, and on that front alone the picture as a whole is sadly lacking.
Be that as it may, Iíd make the case that Sinister is pretty darn engrossing and mostly worthwhile all the same. If taken as a gothic drama, as some sort of examination of driven family man at an emotional and moral crossroads, Derricksonís latest connects magnificently. Forget the horror aspects and focus on Ellisonís internal devolution, the way he slowly fractures at the seams, bends his own rules and gives into his egotistical airs unsettling in the extreme. The movie is, at its heart, a tragedy of a man inadvertently attempting to fall on a sword of his own creation, making the final moments more poignant and heartrending than anything close to terrifying.
Hawke is fantastic, and as heís in almost every scene thatís as important plus as any working in the filmís favor. He gives a complex, multifaceted performance thatís wholly believable, and while his love for his family is never in doubt neither is his desire to re-achieve a level of fame heís let lapse throughout a decade of underachieving failure. At the same time, the movie is almost stolen right out from under him by character actor James Ransone, the young performer making an amusingly indelible impression as a star-struck local deputy eager to help the author out but whoís also much smarter than his overly exuberant enthusiastic exterior first leads one to believe.
Iím still having trouble getting over the fact that Sinister isnít as scary as its premise promises. Itís a flaw, a big one, and itís keeping me from embracing the film as fully as I probably would have otherwise. But overall Derrickson and Cargill have come up with something unique and relatively original, anchoring the proceedings in honest human failings and emotions that are instantly relatable. As a tragic drama, the movie works, sometimes splendidly, I just did the same as horror film because then, if it did so, weíd have something quite spectacular to be talking about.Ē
While my initial reservations remain, it should be said that Sinister plays incredibly well the second time around and is rather more unsettling at home, actually, that it was in the movie theatre. I still feel a tiny annoyed that the climax is more or less preordained, sapping it of its potential to terrify, but on the whole Derricksonís latest manages to get the job done rather well, anchored by a performance by Hawke ranking as one of his absolute best.
Sinister is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 2.40:1/1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack along with Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks and features optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
∑ Audio Commentary with director/co-writer Scott Derrickson
∑ Audio Commentary with director/co-writer Scott Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill
∑ True Crime Authors (9:16)
∑ Living in a House of Death (11:32)
∑ Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Scott Derrickson (4:55)
Itís a good collection of stuff, both of the audio commentaries (Derrickson making it a point to stick to directorial matters in his solo effort while his combo with Cargill is more free-flowing and all over the map) pretty much must-listens for fans are those interested in becoming horror-themed filmmakers. In regards to the two featurettes, the one with the crime authors is strictly okay while the other chronicling how realtors attempt to sell homes were violent events took place is shockingly awesome. Finally, the deleted scenes arenít particularly notable one way or the other, and itís easy to see why Derrickson excluded them (even without listening to his commentary).
Sinister is incredibly effective for the most part, and although the preordained nature of much of the climax did rub me the wrong way getting to that point was still a heck of a lot of creepy fun. The Blu-ray looks and sounds incredible, getting top marks all across the board meaning that fans of the film will not be at all disappointed if they decide to add it to their personal libraries.