Wrapping up last Friday’s Killtoberfest-fest with #9, in our desperation we turned to something that was 100% definitely horror, last year’s Sinister. This was a mistake.
Sinister actually began decently, and in the hands of even a competent writer, the premise should have worked. The movie opens with Ellison, a true crime author (Ethan Hawke), moving into a new home in a new town with his family in order to write a new book about a horrific crime in which an entire family was murdered in their own home by an unknown killer. What he doesn’t tell his family is that they’re moving into the fucking murder house. Bad idea, buddy. They’re still moving in when Ellison finds a box of old Super 8 home movies (in a box marked “Home Movies”, and I’m positive this script was originally titled Home Movies until some studio exec decided that didn’t sound like a horror movie and changed it). Each of the half-dozen reels shows a different family being horribly murdered, and we’re off to the races.
Or at least we would be if the movie had any other good ideas in its stupid head. But Sinister knows the best it has are those Super 8 movies. (And it’s right, too–they’re well-conceived, chilling little shorts, featuring sort of stripped-down, realistic Saw-style death mechanisms.) Whereas a normal investigative author would either turn the evidence over to the police or, barring that, watch them all in a row and investigate further, Ethan Hawke can’t be allowed to do that because that’d be frontloading the only good parts. So the film has him watch one film a night, and in between we’re treated to some or all of three types of scenes, repeated over and over again:
-Ellison’s whiny family whine about how much he sucks as a husband and father and how much they hate what they don’t yet know is the murder house
-Ellison calls two people who know more than him and they tell him stuff about the plot
-Ellison hears something spooky–in a situation which would obviously lead him to believe A) somebody’s in the house and B) it’s the killer–and decides that instead of calling the police or waking up his children and fleeing the house, he’s going to wander around IN THE FUCKING DARK looking for the source of the noise, and did I mention he never bothers to turn on the lights even though the switch is right there, the switch is right fucking there TURN ON THE LIGHTS YOU MORON
Then this already mediocre movie takes a turn for the stupid when:
We reveal that the killer is supernatural. And that, terrifyingly, he is in fact:
[EVEN MORE SPOILERS]
This revelation basically ruins an already troubled movie by causing it to succumb to Insidious Syndrome, where anything can happen for no reason (and everything does) and therefore nothing matters or is scary.
At least at the end, Ethan Hawke gets what was fucking coming to him, but since it gets his whole family murdered too, it’s not really satisfying. But since he deserved it, it’s not really tragic. And since there is no such thing as an ICP fan with limitless power who for some reason prefers to target the children of families who lived in a murder house but only after they move out unless it’s an alternate Tuesday, it’s not really scary, either.
Bonus negative points for a late-stage attempt at meta via a “the images are the source of its power!” ploy that was old (but executed much better) over 10 years ago in The Ring.
Getting away from the story for a moment, the film is also pretty sucky on other levels. Ethan Hawke’s turd of a character still almost kind of works because he sells it so well, but he’s acting circles around his wife and kids, each of whom are carefully given one single attribute, a one-dimensional conflict with Dad that is established in horribly blatant exposition in the first few scenes. James Ransome and Vincent D’onofrio are wasted. Much of the movie appears to have been paid for by Apple. I could go on, but my rage has curdled into disgust. Whoever said this was a decent recent horror film deserves to be haunted by Juggalos forever.