In director Scott Derrickson’s creepy 2012 film‘Sinister’, Ethan Hawke is a struggling writer whose need for one more bestseller places him and his family on a collision course with some very dark forces. Hawke breathes life into Ellison Oswalt; a true crime writer who is desperate to get another fifteen minutes of fame with his latest project.
Derrickson’s film relies more on the performance of his cast and creating atmosphere than on gratuitous violence or cheap jump scares. From the strained creaking of branches to the shadows at the end of hallways, ‘Sinister’ is a well produced and tightly directed supernatural thriller. The film eschews the obvious trite horror plot devices and serves more as a thoughtful cautionary tale about personal obsessions and demons.
Hawke’s performance as Oswalt elevates ‘Sinister’ above other recent horror films. He portrays the writer as a man as obsessed by the crimes which he investigates as he is himself with reclaiming his former celebrity. Ellison Oswalt is a writer who gets inside of his writing projects by moving into the neighborhoods wherein the crimes he investigates took place. His parasitic approach to his subject matter has placed a strain on his family and rendered them pariahs in each town they have lived.
For his next book Oswalt has opted to move not just to the area where the murder of a family happened, but has moved his family into the actual home where grisly murders have taken place and one child is still missing.
Upon moving in, Oswalt discovers a box containing a movie projector and ‘home movies’ made by a killer whose crimes extend back over several decades. Who left this gruesome souvenir? Who filmed these atrocious crimes? Where are the missing children from these murdered families?
Where ‘Sinister’ succeeds is in setting the tone and the atmosphere of Ellison Oswalt’s dark journey into the unknown. The performances by the supporting cast, featuring: Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, and Vincent D’Onofrio are realistic characterizations of people dealing with an increasingly dark and bizarre situation. Director Derrickson shows a deft touch at developing characters versus relying on tired movie tropes and stereotypical horror film hysterics.
‘Sinister’ explores some very creepy but compelling territory and its plot develops naturally and with a fair share of unsettling moments. The film does contain some violent images but not in the over-the-top ‘Hostel’ style sensory assault that has become so prevalent.
If you’re looking for a well made, solidly acted, and downright creepy movie to send a shiver or two down your spine; ‘Sinister’ might be just what you’re looking for.