Recently I sat down to rewatch Sinister. I had watched it a few years ago but struggled to get into it and kept getting distracted, so much so in fact that I realize I had plain not noticed significant parts of the movie the first time. Either way, my second viewing was more focused and enjoyable, and I wanted to share my thoughts. Some of them have changed, some of them remained (even if I was so distracted the first time).
So for those that don’t know (or are like my husband and keep getting it confused with Insidious), Sinister follows Ethan Hawke’s character, who is a true-crime writer. His first book brought him a lot of success, and it’s been downhill from there. His solution is to move the family into the house where the murder that he plans on writing about took place. So you know good decisions. While there, he discovers a box of film in the attic showing not only the murders that took place in that house but several other ritualized murders of families with a similar pattern, only different execution styles. He begins to piece them all together and discovers the worship of a demon known to eat children and use images to come from Hell to our world.
Sinister is an interesting experience for me because while I liked the movie overall, I don’t know that I believe it went in the strongest direction. The first part of the movie is mainly focused on Ellison (Hawke) starting his investigation and falling down the rabbit hole with the different murders he’s discovered. However, in doing so, he starts to uncover the supernatural elements that are throughout this movie, and I find decidedly weaker.
What I mean is the ritualized killings of the families are super creepy. The mystery of how these families are tied together and who killed them is fascinating. The actual supernatural explanation and most of the horror related to it falls flat in comparison. Much like the first time I watched this movie the second time, I walked away feeling like it would have been a stronger movie if it had been about a True Crime writer stumbling upon a brutal murder cult, rather than a supernatural killer. But it’s not so moving on.
Sinister has some genuinely terrifying elements to it. The murders that Ellison discovers are horrific and haunting, and it’s hard not to be unsettled by watching family after family viciously murdered. Not only that, but Ellison begins to be haunted (for lack of a better term) the further he gets into his investigation. This leads to the horror playing out in two parts. Either through what Ellison is watching or through Ellison creeping through his dark house while discovering various clues pointing to a supernatural explanation.
There is a decent amount of tension and suspense with a few jump scares. Most of the fear lands and lands well, leaving the movie as a creepy experience. However, some of the horror doesn’t really work. Some of the effects feel very fake, and the end result is some key moments of fear, not exactly working.
The pacing is also a little off because the movie takes place in a short amount of time. There is a lot of them being a family during the day then rush to the horror at night, back to day. The whole movie takes place over a few days and feels a bit… rushed. Ellison goes from having no clue what he is investigating to unraveling the entire mystery so quickly the build-up feels a bit lacking. That being said, when you get into the actual horror elements, they are well-paced themselves, so it goes a long way to make up for it.
The acting is also incredibly well done. Ethan Hawke, of course, delivers a strong performance, as do his costars. There is no weak link to point to, which is impressive considering two of the main cast are rather young, yet despite their age, they carry their own.
The movie is also not afraid to be dark, and I mean that literally. Next to Hereditary, this may actually be one of the darkest horror films I have ever watched. It is not afraid to keep the lights off and let the idea of what is in the darkness build extra tension. However, I will admit that it is mildly annoying to watch Ellison walk by light switch after light switch while he’s clearly freaking out to achieve this darkness. Still, it has the impact it was going for, so setting aside my snarky self wanting to yell “turn on a damn light,” it works well.
Sinister also has one of the best soundtracks in a horror movie with an incredibly well-done theme. It was the thing I remembered most from my first viewing, and it did not disappoint in the second.
So we circle back to the plot. The idea that it is a supernatural force following the family is not a bad one. It is a good enough concept, and it leads to a disturbing killer. There is also the fact that the end of the movie plays with one of the biggest horror tropes, and I appreciate that. I still found myself thinking that it might have been better without the supernatural part, though. There is also the demon design. It is… I hate to be so awful, but it’s bad. Part of me even wonders if the reason I can’t get over the supernatural element is related to the demon design. I don’t like being that negative, it does represent people’s hard work, and I understand and appreciate that it’s just not good. There is also the fact that once again, the movies of the deaths and Ellison’s decline stand out to me as more creepy and stand out as being better executed than a lot of the supernatural horror.
I also think Sinister represents a long line of us being inundated with supernatural horror. Horror goes in cycles, and Sinister fell into a massive supernatural one. BAt the time, it was the right movie, but now I feel like I would have liked it to have gone in a different direction so it could have stood out a little more.
So bottom line. I think most genre fans have seen this one, but if not, it’s worth a go. (Make sure you aren’t super distracted while watching though). I enjoyed it and will likely view it again in the future. It is a well-done movie with little to complain about beyond the demon’s look. It is a bit of the time (a lot of supernatural horror about families), and I might be a little tired of them. Still, Sinister should not be negatively judged simply because I have a bit of supernatural fatigue. I personally would have liked the story to go in a different direction. However, the writer started from the demon and worked out, so given that I actually really enjoy the overall plot and the way it worked. The movie is creepy and unsettling, so while not my favorite movie, it does the job that it is meant to do as a good horror movie.