Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BLU Review: Sinister

Horror films are tricky.  The genre is an easy route into Hollywood, but at the same time it is one of the most difficult genres to work in because it evolves more than anything else.  Horror films can try anything and the odds are it has been done before.  This conundrum leaves us in the middle, where most horror films fall these days.  Sinister, while it is much stronger than most of the recent entries, sequels and found-footage disasters, cannot fight its way out of the middle.  There is creativity here, solid work from the actors involved, and some "jump" moments.  It cobbles together elements of horror films past to tell its own story, but the story somehow circles back into familiarity.

Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime writer with a wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), and two young children.  Ellison is moving the family into a new house as the film opens, but apparently something devious lives in this home's past.  A gruesome crime occurred inside the house and everyone in the town knows the story.  Which explains why the people in town disapprove of Ellison's decision and the police stand outside on moving day warning him not to move in.  The ominous warnings of the townsfolk: check.

All seems normal for a while as Ellison begins investigating the crimes and falls deep into his writing.  He begins drinking, which proves itself to be a past issue.  Imagine Hawke's Ellison as a more under control Jack Torrance.  One night, Ellison finds a mysterious box in the attic containing snuff films of shocking murders in the home  There is a family hung from the tree in the backyard, another family burned alive in their car in the garage, an incident involving the pool, and so on and so forth.  The Super 8 films are gruesome and altogether horrific, one of the better elements of the film.  Ellison becomes obsessed with the videos, and before long he notices a thread carrying through them all: the face.

The face is demonic black and white with wicked eyes and a shock of black hair.  Ellison digs deeper and deeper and his family loses sight of him in the everyday.  Strange things start happening around the house involving voices, dogs, those thing that go pump in the night, and a number of visions or nightmares from Ellison.  All sound familiar?  Well, it is and it isn't.  The direction of Sinister may be familiar but the end result carries with it some surprise and certain elements that are not quite as familiar as the journey.

The production values of Sinister are top notch, and the mood and tone of the picture is perfect given the subject.  Ethan Hawke, always reliable, is most believable in these roles of selfish but passionate, intellectual men.  Ellison loves his family, but he thirsts for his own success to return and this blinds him from certain danger.  As Tracy, the relatively unknown Juliet Rylance carries her own with Hawke and the two make a convincing couple.  Both children get their time but it is Michael Hall D'Addario as the confused young Trevor who dominates in his performance.  Sinister has many of the building blocks of the horror genre, and perhaps at times it over-delivers.  But all this being said, everything winds up a little too familiar.

B-