views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Sinister (15)
Vue, West End
12th September 2012


There are some secrets no woman ever wants to find out her husband has been keeping from her. An affair, a serious disease, money troubles, take your pick. However, in Sinister, the typical list is blown out of the water with poor Tracy (Juliet Rylance) discovering from her young children that her true crime writer husband Ellison (Ethan Hawke) has moved them all into a horrific murder scene as part of his research.

Having briefly hit the big time with a work called Kentucky Blood, Ellison's recent books have been much less successful and he is desperate to pen another big seller. In the past, he moved his family to properties near crime scenes, but this time, he goes even further and moves his family into a house where the previous occupants were found hanged in the back garden. With the unsettling exception of a little girl, Stephanie (Victoria Leigh), who was never found and is presumed dead.

Sinister is quite heavily influenced by Ringu, which is no bad thing, given it is widely considered to be one of the most successful films of its genre. There are also less obvious influences, perhaps The Amityville Horror, The Blair Witch Project or even The Woman In Black.

It would be unfair to say that the suspense is as thickly painted as in traditional Hammer horror, but all the jump-out-of-your-seat moments are clearly signposted, with plenty of hints, sudden drops in lighting and so on. Although it was predictable, there were plenty of yelps and nervous laughter from the screening room, suggesting that the fear factor is there.

As Ellison begins to doubt his grip on reality, the camerawork becomes wonderfully erratic. We are at first in front of him, behind him, close by, far away, looking up from an earthworm view, completely level. This constant switching of techniques really adds to the tension and keeps you wrong-footed and disorientated up to the inevitable shocks.

The film has plenty of violence - and it's certainly not repetitive - but the really graphic stuff is kept off screen and instead implied. What horror is or isn't shown is largely physical, rather than psychological, which is a shame.

There is plenty of foreshadowing throughout and all of the intended loose ends are neatly wrapped up at the end, with the door left open for a potential franchise. The formula for a good scary movie is followed precisely, but remove the film from its genre and look at it just as a film, rather than a horror film, and it does start to fall down slightly.

Ellison's back story is slowly drip fed to the audience, in an attempt to underline how hungry he is for another hit. His desire for success is believable, but it doesn't go far enough to justify his actions with regards to putting his family at risk. Hawke is given the most screen time out of all the actors and as such, his character is the one with the greatest chance to really connect. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite elicit the empathy he needs.

Deputy "So and So" (James Ransone) provides some light relief, with Ransone portraying his very relatable character as determined and intelligent, if a bit misunderstood. He bounces off Hawke well, but it seems too convenient that he does not have a greater involvement towards the end - it does seem like the Deputy would have tried harder.

If you watch horror films for the shock factor, you will enjoy this. It's gripping, it's scary and there's a good obligatory twist. Sinister is unlikely to stand the test of time and become a classic, but it's a pretty solid scary film, worth catching now in the run up to Halloween.

Sinister was released in the UK on 5th October 2012.

Nearest stop: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

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