Tuesday, 28 May 2013
FILM REVIEW: SINISTER
Icon Film Distribution
Opens May 30
By Guest Reviewer Aaron Smith
Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime writer, moves his family into a house in small town USA to research the bizarre hanging murders that happened months before to the previous family that lived there. Although unaware of the horror that took place there, the other members of the Oswalts know all too well about the nature of Ellison’s writing.
Hungry for a hit after tasting success and fame 10 years earlier with a book that resulted in the killer being caught, Ellison finds a box of 8mm home movies in the attic. But as we see in the opening scene, they’re not your usual happy home movies: they’re of the snuff category, documenting the hangings and other disturbing murders dating back to the 1960s.
Rather than turn the films over to the local authorities who originally refuse to assist him in his sleuthing, he secludes himself in his home office to study the horrific, grainy visions for clues. Central to the mystery is the hanged family’s missing little girl. Watching Ellison connect the dots while resorting to alcohol to cope with what he is witnessing is some of the best work I have seen from Ethan Hawke.
Meanwhile a supportive but cautious wife, Tracy (superbly played by Juliet Rylance), struggles to keep her family from falling apart: tween son Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) is suffering from recurring night terrors, triggered by accidentally seeing graphic evidence being used as research for one of his father’s previous books; cute and innocent young daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) longs for the friends she left behind before being relocated to the murder house, expressing herself by painting murals on her bedroom wall.
Stakes are higher when there are fully realised characters to be concerned about, so credit to writer-director, Scott Derrickson, co-writer C Robert Cargill, and to a dedicated cast for making me really care about the outcome of the Oswalts. On screen chemistry between all the family members is top notch, while Vincent D’Onofrio in a supporting role as local occult expert, Professor Jonas, adds credibility to the mythology of the killer.
Production values on a $US3 million budget are fantastic with a special mention for the lighting department and cinematographer. Being able to see what’s going on while still retaining a deep darkness adds to the spooky atmosphere and is something which many horror movies fail to achieve.
It’s puzzling why Sinister has taken roughly 9 months after international release to reach Australian theatres, especially after doing such great business and earning mostly favourable reviews. And I strongly recommend seeing it in the cinema. If you are able to take your eyes off the screen you can witness the audience jumping, which is what happened when I saw it in the States.
Who (or what) left the box of films there? Will the desperate true-crime writer realise he has put himself and his family in grave danger before it’s too late? Will the inevitable sequel be titled ‘More Sinster’? Luckily, Sinister satisfyingly delivers on its premise and provides a new kind of horror villain to haunt our dreams.