In SINISTER, Ethan Hawke stars as true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt who has brought his wife and two kids to live in a house formerly occupied by the slaughtered family he intends to write his newest book on. That sounds reasonable, right? After finding a box of 8mm snuff films in the attic, Oswalt realizes that the person responsible for this most recent murder may have been attacking families for decades.
In retrospect, I wish I had thought to live-tweet my thoughts on SINISTER while I was watching it.
There are some horror films that you just know induce a constant running commentary, whether it's out of amusement, disbelief or utter confusion. That doesn't always mean it's a bad film, because they can lie anywhere on the spectrum from really good to really terrible, although the worse it is the more fun the reactions are.
Ain't no party like a spooky attic party cause a spooky attic party don't-AAHHHHHHHH!!
SINISTER is... neither extreme. I'm still processing how I really felt about it. I don't think it was brilliant by any stretch, but somehow... can it be? I think I liked it nonetheless. Maybe because I had fun overreacting to Oswalt's bizarre decisions. Maybe because the eerie oddness of the music written for the film wormed its way into my head. Could have been that I enjoyed singing "The Cat Came Back" when Oswalt tried to get rid of the snuff films, or that there were a few scares that made me jump and then laugh at why I was jumping. But maybe it's really because that image of the family hanging from a tree in their backyard is haunting my brain.
"The cat came back, the very next daaay, the cat came back, thought she were a goner..."
There were some genuinely creepy things happening in SINISTER, that scene just being one of them. I started to expect the direction it was going in pretty early, but held out hope that there would be nothing supernatural about it (sorry for the minor spoiler but, there is). I think it would have been more effective, mentally, if it hadn't gone down that way. That's why people love true crime, because it scrambles our brain to think about the atrocities people commit, just how far down the rabbit hole a human being's mind can go.
In SINISTER, I was more often than not wondering about the state of Oswalt's mind. You could have made a drinking game out of the number of times I found myself saying things like, "Ohhh my god, why isn't he calling the police and WTF STOP WATCHING THOSE DIY SNUFF FILMS!" For the life of me, I couldn't work out what that man was thinking or why he didn't find what was going on to be sufficiently bizarre and disturbing enough to want to save his family from it.
One thing is for sure: SINISTER was clearly written to exist in the same light bulb deficient universe that The X-Files reside in. I like to call it "Brother Can You Spare A Light" syndrome. It boggles the mind at the lack of illumination. I get that dark spooky places are dark and spooky, but if I were any member of this family I'd be a walking bruise from smashing into walls and furniture all the time.
I'm also convinced that someone on the film must be a Werner Herzog fan, because I could have sworn there was a rendering of an image from Cave of Forgotten Dreams done entirely in blood on one of the walls. I'll never look at that documentary the same way again.
In the end, SINISTER reminds us of one of the most valuable and classic lessons that horror films have taught us over the years: Never buy a house in which people have died tragically. And also, watch out for those cheap jump scares at the end of the movie. They get me every time...
Sinister via Rotten Tomatoes
Sinister via IMDB.com
Official website (HaveYouSeenHim.com)