FrightFest 2012: Sinister reaction

If you’re looking for the crossover hit of the festival, then Sinister is surely it, boasting high-end production values, recognisable names (Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio) and the stamp ‘From the makers of Insidious

Like that mainstream smash, Sinister builds slow, its creepy, shadowy scares rooted in the every day before sliding into the supernatural.

Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) is a true-crime writer who makes his living exposing sloppy police work: resifting the evidence, conducting new interviews, digging deeper. The results make for sensational bestsellers. Or did, once…

Down on his luck, drinking too much, desperate for a hit, Oswald moves his family to a small town to investigate a family massacre. What he doesn’t mention is that he’s actually moved them into the house…

Hawke is good as the obsessive writer who puts work before family (shades of The Shining ’s Jack Torrance here), his mental health deteriorating as he locks himself away to drink whiskey while pouring over flickering home movie footage again and again and again.

At first, the strange goings-on in the house – noises and unseen presences, canisters of film appearing in the attic – might be nothing more sinister than misfiring synapses in Ellison’s soused, overwrought mind. It could even be the disgruntled locals trying to scare him away.

Then a pattern emerges to the killings he’s investigating. It seems that something ‘other’ is in play. Something evil.

Blending elements of the haunted house movie with new riffs on the found footage premise and hints of the cabalistic (D’Onofrio pops up as a local ‘occult specialist’), Sinister unfurls in classical chiller mode.

It’s exposition-heavy and not above throwing in a handful of cheap stings, but for the most part director Scott Derrickson ( The Exorcism Of Emily Rose ) trusts in lugubrious widescreen lensing and meticulous sound design to shiver the skin.

A mainstream horror well made, Sinister is always compelling and frequently unnerving. It won’t send you screaming from your house but you’ll exit the multiplex on a Friday night with a smile on your face, contented and disquieted.

Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.