Watching movies in theaters is a big gamble these days. In an age when Hollywood is reluctant to take risks on movies and ticket prices have increased, I shy away from movie theaters more and more. Most of the time, I’d rather just watch Netflix or one of my DVDs. However, I love horror movies inordinately and sometimes I’m willing to take the risk that the horror movie I watch will not just be crap, but big-budget, shiny, soulless crap. I also love bad movies, but I tend to have more love for the low budget schlock than, oh say, a high budget movie about a freaking board game. You can imagine my delight when I watched Sinister, a good, low budget horror movie that relied on good characterization and subtlety.
I don’t want to ruin the film for any prospective viewers, because I highly recommend it, but I’ll give a brief synopsis. The film centers on a crime writer named Ellison and his family, who move into the home of a murdered family. Ellison is writing the story of the family’s murder and hopes that it will be his next big hit. He comes across a set of old Super 8 reels and a film projector in the attic, which depict various murders all tied to a creepy pagan symbol. Spooky happenings ensue.
I have to admit that I’m predisposed to identifying with the main character. He’s a writer struggling with the ambition to write a new bestselling book to provide for his family, a book whose inherently dark subject matter acts as a barrier between him and his family. I’m not a professional writer, insofar as I’m not paid to do it, but the conflict between economic necessity and ambition or artistic integrity are frequently on my mind; I can only imagine how strongly the screenwriter feels about the subject. However, I think most will find Ellison a sympathetic and well-developed character, even if they don’t have literary ambitions.
Sinister is not a fast-paced movie, which surprised me at because the trailer does what all trailers do; it gives a brief synopsis of the movie and shows most of the jump scares and unnerving images. However, I would argue the movie works best when it’s not trying to scare you with the same dark eyed demon faces jumping out of the shadows, which you’ve probably seen countless time by now, if you’re like me. It spends more time developing Ellison’s character and creating tense situations, which I find make this movie more rewarding. My favorite scene takes place at night when Ellison goes to investigate a noise and the shadows are pitch black. The shadows are so conspicuously black, that I spent several minutes waiting with bated breath for something hiding in the shadows to get Ellison. The film builds up slowly, getting progressively creepier as Ellison investigates the murders, watches unnervingly realistic, gritty Super 8 reels, and deals with an escalating supernatural presence.
Since I’ve only seen this film once, it’s my duty to present a few objections to the film, lest I wash movie in undeserved total praise. There are a couple contrived situations that might irk viewers and the ending draws just a few minutes too long to be satisfying. At its worst, Sinister might be an average movie, since it doesn’t tread particularly unfamiliar ground in terms of its premise. However, I appreciated the character development and built up intensity of the film, all done on a fraction of a typical Hollywood budget. I think you should check out Sinister, in theaters if you can, on DVD/Bluray/other legal means if you can’t. And if you don’t like it, you can always go to see the Candy Land, Monopoly, Risk, Clue (remake), Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Ouija board movies that are supposedly in development. I’m sure they’ll be worth the ticket.