Scott Derrickson’s Sinister is a curious blending of genres and classic plot devices. It certainly has some interesting ideas at the center of its plot. Ethan Hawke plays a true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt, looking for his next big story and desperate to find fame again. After discovering a box full of Super 8 home movies in the attic of his new house, matters start to take a turn for the worst. The films appear to depict the real murders of several families and investigations lead to a series of strange unsolved crime and the possible involvement of supernatural forces. Could a pagan deity known as Bughuul, who allegedly preys upon the souls of children, be responsible? Is Oswalt’s own family in danger? Do bears conduct their personal business in deciduous forests?
Sinister is a film of two very distinct halves. The opening set-up and subsequent plot exposition is technically well done, atmospheric and unnerving. The use of Super-8 film to show the murdered families, works very well and is constructed in a genuinely creepy manner. The found-footage sequences are a plot device within the main story, rather than the basis of the entire movie. This is by far the films best asset. Yet the tipping point comes when Bughuul physically manifests itself and the inferred threat becomes more immediate and less mysterious. At this point, Sinister becomes a far more perfunctory horror movie and heads towards a rather obvious bleak ending.
It saddens me to be so critical of Sinister, as watching a R rated horror movie is quite a rare experience these days. It’s a shame that the entire film could not be as convincingly scripted and compellingly filmed as the first half. Similar tonal inconsistencies featured in Director Scott Derrickson’s earlier movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. That too suffered dramatically once it made the conscious decision to show the supernatural rather than imply it. However, Sinister does benefit from Ethan Hawke who brings a little more to the role than expected and there are some adequate scares along the way. Yet these can't quite compensate for formulaic denouement, leaving viewers with a distinct feeling that Sinister has not reached its full potential.
Furthermore, whoever was responsible for the video marketing campaign for this movie certainly hasn’t done it any favours. The entire plot and virtually every scare were included in the various trailers and TV promos, totally mitigating any potential suspense the movie may have had upon release. It must be very frustrating for jobbing directors such as Scott Derrickson. Not only are they hamstrung by the commercial demands of the producers but any tricks that they may have up their sleeves are shamelessly given away by the marketing campaign. Yet despite these shortcomings the public found sufficient merit in Sinister to generate a healthy box office return. Thus, we were subsequently regaled with Sinister 2 in 2015. Sadly, it was not an improvement.