(The gist: When a horror movie can haunt the edges of my mind after the credits have run, I consider it successful. Sinister is not my favorite horror movie, but the creepy elements are executed so well that it imprinted in my mind, made me not want to watch it a second time alone. That is plenty to make me appreciate it and consider it worth watching.)
A good horror movies stays with me after the credits have rolled, haunts me, plants a seed behind my eyes that sprouts in my nightmares. Years upon years of horror binging has definitely desensitized me to many of the effects, but there are still some elements that will always leave a mark on my brain.
As a mother of two young children, anything involving children or families resonates a little more thoroughly in me. I can too easily imagine my children or my family in the characters' place, and that, if done properly, can cause real fear. And that is the point of horror, after all.
Sinister was able to unnerve me, able to make me just a touch uncomfortable. Not because it was scary, not because it was chilling horror but because the subject matter affected me and was presented in the right way.
Sinister follows true crime novelist Ellison as he moves his family into a new house. What he does not tell his family is that he has relocated them into the house where the murder he is researching for his next book took place. He discovers 8mm movies, which include the murder scenes, for his case and several preceding it. The more he looks into them, the more scary and supernatural things become for him.
Sinister begins slow; it builds its plot gradually by degrees. Unfortunately, upon first viewing, this made it extremely easy to be distracted from it. My viewing partner and I missed many crucial plot details (resulting in a necessary second viewing) because it was not immediately gripping. We caught the creepy highlights but viewed the film with punctuated attention.
For my second screening, watching it home alone was an entirely different experience than gabbing with a viewing partner. I did not want to view it alone, in my dark empty house, with my sleeping children. Yet that effect, that creep factors tells me the film succeeds as a horror movie. It unnerved me; it lingered with me after I turned it off, and even if that made me uncomfortable, that means it worked.
Sinister is a ghost story without feeling like a ghost story. In the way Ellison researches the murders, it reminded me of Red Dragon. It definitely has that crime mystery element layered within the supernatural horror story, which is both refreshing and interesting.
The movie itself is well done. Though Ethan Hawke is not the first person I think for horror, he executed the role of an ambitious, somewhat selfish writer well. I believed both his professional hunger and his fear, and I could empathize with him on both sides. The premise and plot are intriguing. The scenes are well composed, and the creep factor is delivered expertly.
I did one gripe with this movie: Ethan Hawke’s character is a dumbass. If you are scared of a serial killer or a supernatural murderous force, why are you spending all your nights running around your dark house? Turn on a damn light! And I don’t know what kind of sedative he was feeding his wife and kids for them to sleep through all the stumbling and screaming he was doing in that dark. Yes, it makes the scene very creepy and suspenseful, but at a certain threshold, I have to say, WTF.
Sinister did not become my favorite horror movie ever (not remotely close) and was not life altering in any way. Overall, it was successful. And that was enough.