Found-footage films just got flipped on their heads. With Sinister, director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) takes something deeply wrong with the horror movie genre as of late and uses it to his own unique advantage: the villain of this film is the found footage itself.
Director Derrickson co-authors a tale with C. Robert Cargill about a writer of crime novels, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), searching for his next book of gruesomely true stories by living in the house in which a crime was committed. Ellison discovers a box of film reels in the attic of his new casa, and like the professional investigator he is, he watches them and uncovers a series of seemingly unrelated killings—including the one he is currently studying. He watches the reels repeatedly; the connecting factor seems to be a mysterious figure located somewhere in the frame of every brutal murder. Ellison learns more about the figure with the help of a local college professor (an uncredited Vincent D’Onofrio). The very thought of this in hindsight makes one realize how deep the writers of this went into researching this creature/legend/demon/what-have-you, and that’s part of the terror of seeing Sinister. His name is Bughuul, and he feeds on children’s souls. Lovely. What’s worse is the fact that the protagonist is a family man with a wife (Juliet Rylance) and two kids (Michael Hall D’Addario and Clare Foley), so finding this out—as well as descending deeper and deeper into this case of killings with the help of a green-around-the-ears deputy (James Ransone)—makes for an intriguing yarn.
Sinister goes through its exposition at a moderate pace, yet when the terror starts, it advances at a menacing clip. A positive from director Derrickson is using director of photography Chris Norr, who implements a technique of classic horror cinema importance: light, light, light. What we see remains as much of a necessity as when we see it.
Useful camerawork that scares, original music by Christopher Young that’s catchy at first glance and spine-tingling in retrospect and an ageless bad guy hidden in Super 8 films that feasts upon children equals a film that, no matter how many scary-movie traditions and clichés it upholds, will shake your insides and reverberate for days.
Sinister is now playing in Philly-area theaters.