wed 19/06/2024

Sinister | reviews, news & interviews



Ethan Hawke takes up residence in a cleverly haunted house

Ethan Hawke sees more than he wants to, in a horror home movie

This year’s glut of haunted house films have been unusually, often painfully intimate. Elizabeth Olsen’s pure, panting terror in Silent House, like Gretchen Lodge’s depraved unravelling in Lovely Molly, added to the sub-genre’s essential horror: the thought that when you shut your front door you’re locking something awful inside, not out; that your home, every creaking floorboard and attic thud of it, isn’t a safe haven but an insidious foe.

Even as a long-time horror film lover, I’ve found them at times almost unbearably tense, creeping under my skin in minutes.

Sinister seems set to push the same buttons, but is more slyly playful. Writer-director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) makes this haunting’s victim bring his fate crashing in on himself. Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a bestselling true-crime author on the slide, moves his family into a suburban home where, he neglects to tell them, the previous occupants were murdered in the back-yard. He hopes an investigation plotted from ground zero will restore his fame and fortune. When a box of home movies seemingly made by the killer reveals a string of previous family murders reaching across America and right back to the Sixties, Ellison smells success, not doom.

Ethan Hawke, a grunge-era poster-boy in Reality Bites, is hitting middle-age as an actor of growing versatility and wit. His Ellison mixes bumptious vanity and bravery, underestimating everyone and everything except himself. It’s close to a lone hand, but Derrickson also surrounds him with meatily eccentric cameos. Vincent D’Onofrio (magnetic ever since he played the bullied cadet in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket) is a Californian occult professor in a tie-dyed shirt straight out of The Fast Show, whose Skyped advice is always bad news. The Wire veteran James Ransone is a hollow-eyed, hilariously straight-talking country cop. Adding to the sense that Derrickson and co. are engaged in a clever, macabre game are the ghost-children (pictured above) who caper around Ellison, skipping just beyond his vision, playing supernatural hide-and-seek.

Nothing’s really original here – Sinister’s premise goes back in recent cinema to Ring’s cursed video cassettes, and before that to M R James’s short story “Casting the Runes”. But Derrickson makes good use of the diverse moving images around Ellison: the worn tapes of his old chat show appearances he watches, whiskey in hand, to remind himself he was once someone; and the cine-camera which noisily cranks out the reels of slaughter, only understood when a demonic director’s cut arrives.

Darkness gathers unnoticed around the lonely glow of the projector or his laptop at night. And the more he digitally magnifies and morphs images, seemingly commanding and comprehending the footage of hanged, hacked, burned and previously happy families, the deeper the force behind the carnage burrows. The freeze-framed ghoul which casually turns to watch him from the laptop screen (pictured above left) is the world’s worst computer virus.

Sound design too, based around Christopher Young’s Gothic-electronic score, is opulently oppressive, as Sinister steers skilfully between camp inconsequence and palpitating trauma. It’s slick entertainment: Derrickson relishing and respecting horror’s pleasures, with only the quickest of winks.

  • Sinister is on general release from 5 October

Watch the trailer for Sinister

The cine-camera noisily cranks out the reels of slaughter, only understood when the demonic director’s cut arrives


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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