Joshua Reviews Scott Derrickson’s Sinister [SXSW 2012]

2012 is going to be a great year for horror films.   And we may have just seen the best one yet.

During any given film festival, a cavalcade of films will come along, making their world premiere.   However, occasionally, festivals will be privy to something a little different.   That was the case for this year’s SXSW Film Festival, and their ‘Super Secret Screening.’ Despite being spoiled by an outlet that shall not be named, very little could have ended up preparing the viewing public for what is now known rather lovingly (at least based on the general reaction to this utter gem), Scott Derrickson’s Sinister.

Just one of a handful of fantastic upcoming horror features that will make their way out during 2012, this film may sound like just another horror film, but it’s far from it.   Penned by Ain’t It Cool Newser C. Robert Cargill, the film is a broodingly dark and darkly brooding blend of crime tale obsession and haunted house creeps.   And what a wonderful concoction that makes.

Sinister weaves a rather simplistic web.   The film follows the story of a novelist who, after failing to make good on the promise of a past best seller, takes his financially hindered family to a new home, hoping to dig up the case of a lifetime.   However, when they move into the very home where the horror took place, things change entirely, putting more than his story in danger.   A brutal blend of Seven style thrills and Insidious style chills, Sinister is a film that feels wholly unlike anything we’ve seen in quite some time.   And it’s creepy as all hell, to boot.

The true star of this film is the collective that is Derrickson and Cargill.   Taking a rather straight-forward haunted house narrative, and tossing in the added aspect of found footage taking a major part of the narrative, the duo are able to craft a film that is both genuinely intriguing as a crime story, as well as creepy and visceral as a haunted house horror film.   Our lead, played wonderfully by a convincing Ethan Hawke, stumbles upon a collection of home movies, which portray the murders that he is trying to connect, and this, stylistically and narratively, adds such a strong sense of depth and realism to the film.   Vincent D’Onofrio shows up, and is a welcome addition to the cast, as is Juliet Rylance, the beautiful Tracy, wife to our lead.   The cast, top to bottom, are on their A-game, bringing with it the ability to make this super natural story seem not all that impossible.   This sense of dread guides the film, and makes it the must see gem of a horror film that it truly is.

Script wise, the film is top notch.   Giving the viewer a great deal of information without forcing the film to drag itself through the mud of exposition, the film is also able to bring some lighter moments out, making the terror all the more impactful.   Derrickson, best known for The Exorcism of Emily Rose, is at the top of his game here, seemingly inspired by Fincher’s aforementioned masterpiece, Seven, in both structure as well as style.   The editing is noticeable, adding a great deal of suspense to the film, as does the score, from iconic horror composer Christopher Young.   Young’s score is a menacing bit of electronic music, punctuating each set piece without playing too much for jump scares.

And truthfully, that is this film’s strongest suit.   Hell bent on really avoiding going solely for jump scares, the film has such an intensely strong sense of mood and atmosphere, that the film is an uncomfortable one to watch.   Toss in the night terror inducing home video footage central to the plot, and you have a film that you won’t soon be forgetting.   Sure, it does feel slightly over long and a bit meandering in moments, but with great performances from all involved, and some of the best horror craft work in years, Sinister is a must see film that you will never be able to forget.   With an October release date looming, Summit has something truly special on their hands.   Hopefully, I’ll be able to fall back asleep by then.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.

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