Number: Two Hundred and Forty-Eight
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer: Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill
Genre: Supernatural Horror.
Seen On: Cinema
Seen Before: Never.
Running Time: 110 minutes
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D’Addario, Fred Thompson, James Ransone, Vincent D’Onofrio
Favorite Moment: The argument scene between Ellison and Tracy.
Thoughts: It may not surprise you to hear that I am not a fan of the current wave of horror films. I enjoyed Paranormal Activity and the first sequel, I also enjoyed the Saw movies for their plot, but didn’t find them scary. A lot of horror movies, I struggle to care for. I watched The Woman In Black, and felt it relied on too many jump scares at times. Jump scares, are when something jumps out at the screen, which is a brief scare for the audience, i.e. a cat jumps out of a cupboard. This is lazy and generic, an attitude that showcases a writer and director unable to create a true horror film. So, when I heard that Sinister was getting critically acclaimed reviews, my interest was piqued.
First of all, a refreshing change was the choice of leading actor. Ethan Hawke is an Award-nominated actor who is renowned for his performances in Dead Poet’s Society, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Training Day. I myself had been blown away by his performances in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Here, he gives a weathered levity to his character, Ellison Oswalt, his actions hinting at the impact that his lifestyle takes on him. He presents a excited attitude, mixed with a minimal desperation, to the people around him, but, when by himself, his shoulders sag, his hands gripe for a whiskey glass, and his eyes droop with tiredness, eyes that seem to have seen too much already. His desperation to achieve success that he once had a taste of gives his character an understanding of, that allows the audience to believe in. When he makes a decision, whilst we may question the intelligence of it, we can understand why he would make THAT decision. Because we can understand Ellison’s mentality, as well as his gradual developing belief in what is occurring, the film works better. At times, we don’t need to see what happens, we can use his reactions as an indication of what is occurring.
The supporting cast is quite strong as well, Ellison’s relationship with Tracy, played by Juliet Rylance, is established early on, they love each other and Tracey supports him, but underneath the surface is a struggle to live, a weight of Ellison’s determination leaving their personal lives on a knife-edge. This leads to probably the best scene in the film, which isn’t a horror scene, but a scene purely between Ellison and Tracey where the emotion of what they have experienced has finally landed on them, and they argue with one another. It’s a rawer scene that relies on the human emotional that exists within them, and it impacts because we have seen elements of their characters in the build-up. The family side makes the audience care about them.
The horror side, now is two mixes. We have the build-up tension, where Ellison investigates the house he has moved into his family, a house that had several murders committed in years beforehand. He hears noises, looks outside, inside, and in the attic. As he investigates, the scene cranks up in tension, and the audience becomes on edge. Now and again, it turns out to be a jump scare, but other times, it turns out to be something real. Because the jump scares are infrequent, it feels better placed, allowing the audience a moment to breathe, as well as making the actual scares, that much more terrifying. On the other hand, we have the more violent scenes, the playing of several Super 8 footage, where Ellison discovers footage of people being killed. What helps these scenes is that, blood and gore is only hinted at, we rarely see the actual deaths, we see the build-up to the deaths, as well as the victims existing beforehand, in everyday circumstances. This allows the audience to equate these victims as true, everyday people, before seeing the shocking murders. This mix of horror allows each to have its own level of impact, as well attacking multi-facets of horror, not relying on one style. I enjoyed this style, as it gave the film a feel of a three-ring circus, i.e. if you don’t like the clowns, you can have the lion tamer. Here, we get the lion-tamer and the clowns, as opposed to just 90 minutes of a clown.
Whilst the tension builds up well, and the gore horrifies the audience, there is a negative: the villain. Oh, the methods it utilizes for its murders is fantastic, and when you briefly glimpse the villain, it’s creepy. When it’s in the background, it’s terrifying and uncomfortable. But when you see the villain properly…the design was questionable. There were some mild snickering at my cinema at the design of the killer, which definitely wasn’t the aim of the creators. It should have gone the way of Alien, where you never see the proper Xenomorph properly, just briefly in the shadows. For the first 80% of the movie, you only get glimpses of it, which works brilliantly, but the 20% at the end, subverts the terror of the villain. Thankfully, the final 10 minutes of the film makes up for this, leaving the audience rigid in fear.
I would also like to give special mention to the soundtrack. Some of the best soundtracks instantly make a movie better. With Horror films, you have Halloween, Jaws, The Exorcist. My first thoughts when hearing the soundtrack was that it reminded me of the TV show American Horror Story, which would have sound effects in the background to accentuate the creep factor. At times, there could be nothing happening, and the music would have you on edge, waiting for something to happen! This is an example of a soundtrack giving weight to a movie, as instead of something forgettable in the background, it taps into your subconscious, so your mind is left waiting for something terrifying to occur. I was impressed by the soundtrack, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to scare someone else for Halloween.
Overall, as a horror film, whilst the story doesn’t contain anything new, it does create something different, putting a polished spin on a script that could have ended up with an unimaginative hack job. Here, Derrickson and Cargill reach for a better standard of horror, and instantly puts pressure on Paranormal Activity 4 to better it.
Rating (Horror genre): 8 out of 10.