SXSW Review: Sinister



Horror movie fans have been duped for years now. They've longed for an original idea in horror. For a while it was the "found footage" subgenre. The premise is that the events taking place in front of you are really happening and therein is the terror of the film. It worked a few times, and now it all seems unoriginal -- the best ones one-up a previous good found-footage film by having more gore and/or elements of the supernatural. It's a band-aid on the need that horror film fans have when it comes that genre.

Sinister, which had a "secret screening" at SXSW this weekend, is an anti-found-footage film. Its terror lies in the feeling that it gives you while watching because the events unfolding are genuinely terrifying, not because it wants a part of your brain to realize that these things are really happening. It's a saving grace for horror film fans, and it's the film they've been waiting years for.

Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime novelist. In his mind, he's a has-been true crime novelist who yearns for the glory days of having a New York Times bestseller once again. To regain that past glory, he's moved his family to the town where a grisly murder once took place. His family doesn't know that he's moved them into the very house that these murders took place, and his kids, along with the local police force, would much rather Ellison go back where he came from.

While getting situated in the house, Ellison finds a box of old home videos in the attic. They contain footage of the murder that took place in the house, as well as other murders. Needless to say, he's stumbled upon something bigger than he's ever written about before.

What seems like a simple plot has much more under the surface. The brilliance of Sinister is that it isn't built on jump-scares and even has almost no gore. Best of all, it's a found footage film done right. There isn't a need to see an entire film from the point of view of the camera because the found footage that is shown as Ellison is watching is creepier than any entire found footage film you can think of.

Ethan Hawke is brilliant as a man stubbornly pursuing an interest that is clearly not in the best interest of him or his family. The rest of the cast performed brilliantly as well, but to elaborate on how well they performed doing what they were doing would spoil some of the scariest stuff in the film.

Scott Derrickson returns to his directing roots with Sinister. He and co-writer C. Robert Cargill have crafted something truly scary and nightmare inducing. Horror movie fans get to rejoice in October, when the film will have its theatrical release. Finally, an original and frightening film experience. No gore, very little blood, very few jump scares. It doesn't sound like the math formula that adds up to a good horror film, and it's not a good horror film. It's a great one. Quite frankly, it's a terrifying film, and the sort of film that will be talked about for a long time.

Austin connections: I'm proud to say that Sinister's co-writer Christopher Robert Cargill is from Austin. He is in fact a good friend of mine and a good friend to all of us here at Slackerwood. We couldn't be happier for his success with the premiere and wish him all of the luck in the world.