Between the mid-80s and 90s, the horror genre was already dead. It was only Wes Craven’s groundbreaking franchise “Scream” that managed to revive the film genre. Experts are already talking about a “second death” these days, because, as was the case two decades ago, in 2012 the genre is in the firm hands of individual film series. Stand-alone film projects, on the other hand, take longer to find. But fortunately there are directors here and there who try to give the genre originality and surprise again. With SINISTER (2012) “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” director Scott Derrickson created refreshingly new and atmospheric horror fare, which I would like to devote to today’s review & Synopsis of Sinister. There is also a small excursus about the current development of the genre.
The plot summary & Synopsis of Sinister
Book author Ellison (Ethan Hawke) loves the macabre: In order to allow himself and his book projects to be influenced and inspired by real events, he sometimes moves with his children into a house that is plagued by a dark past. In this case, the new home was once the scene of gruesome murders, but that’s not all: When Ellison wanders through the house one night, he finds a box of old videotapes. On these, of all things, the detailed depictions of those murders can be seen. Since he can’t expect the kind of help he’s hoping for from the police, he tries to investigate on his own, because the Super 8 tapes reveal other massacres in addition to the murders in the house, all of which are apparently connected in some way. He discovers that the murders are more than just the evil actions of mortals. Rather, they are the start of a series of inexplicable – perhaps even supernatural – phenomena that push the already troubled writer to the limits of his psychological resilience.
Sinister Movie Meaning & ending
It seems the horror genre is currently at a crossroads. On the one hand, the horrendous film sector is firmly in the hands of individual franchises. For several years now, found footage horror has enjoyed such great popularity that the “Paranormal Activity” series, once created by Oren Peli, releases a new part into cinemas every year just in time for Halloween. A fifth is already decided. Also impossible to kill: Alice, heroine of the “Resident Evil” series. And even the sci-fi horror flick “Prometheus,” which is worth seeing, has a certain “pre/sequel touch” thanks to its “Alien” references. If you look at the direct-to-DVD productions, there are even more such franchise hypes, such as “Wrong Turn”, which no longer makes it into the cinemas thanks to the all too obvious decline in quality, but is still available as a rental and purchase title is so successful that there is currently no end to the series in sight. After all, the audience probably at least survived this series due to the total failure of “Hostel 3”.
Also not to be underestimated: reboots. The cinema world will see at least three new editions of old classics next year. Stephen King’s “Carrie”, “The Evil Dead” and a revival of Tobe Hooper’s 70s terror film “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are in the starting blocks. Others not excluded.
What this “trend toward the familiar” lacks is the innovation for which the genre was originally so known. Although trends can still arise overnight (see found footage, torture porn, teen slashers), they last until they are replaced by a new one. Things become difficult when there is an idle time between two trends. Then exactly what happened to the genre in the mid/late eighties happens. At the time, the slasher subgenre was on its last legs, but a new trend didn’t appear until 1996, when Wes Craven revived teen horror that year. If you look at found footage, and perhaps also the sequel craze, as the current hype, sooner or later the film studios will have to deal with the fact that viewers will eventually tire of this trend. The problem: A new one is not yet in sight – at least at the moment.
It is questionable whether the horror genre can completely reinvent itself and perhaps even throw another, as yet unimagined subgenre onto the market. One would almost tend to say that by now we have simply seen everything. But as soon as such pessimistic thoughts reach you, they come around the corner again: filmmakers with young, fresh ideas that certainly won’t create a new trend on their own, but can at least show a direction. Josh Whedon’s “The Cabin in the Woods,” for example, opened the door for resourceful minds to dare to not just make fun of the genre in the style of the “Scary Movie” series, but to unmask it in an intelligent way. “Eden Lake” maker James Watkins swam against the tide and used a long-lost theme for his “Woman in Black” – that of haunted house horror, and Swedish director Ole Bornedal did a similar thing (“Nightwatch”)who ventured into the almost forgotten exorcism theme with “Possession – The Dark in You” and created a successful “The Exorcist” latecomer.
Scott Derrickson, screenwriter and director of the small but extremely profitable “Sinister” in the USA, manages to combine the familiar with the new and finally create a representative of the genre that the audience takes seriously. Derrickson doesn’t use any of the usual clichés, eschewing the obligatory shadow plays or the all too obvious use of suspense music. This may not please the part of the audience that runs to the cinema precisely because they feel entertained by predictable sensationalism, but “Sinister” can entertain on a different level: the plot.
Through a relatively slow narrative style, which in many places is reminiscent of a chamber play (Ethan Hawke [ “The Dead Poets Club”, “Gattaca” ] carries the film largely alone), “Sinister” manages to build up exactly what is in of fundamental importance in a horror film: tension, atmosphere. Certain elements seem familiar, such as the famous “false leads” or the fact that minor characters make themselves suspicious through conspicuous statements without actually being so. Above all, taking up the Super 8 theme is an intelligent move: on the one hand, the director is leaning towards found footage, but at the same time he is dealing with it completely differently. Instead of letting the found footage speak for itself, it is placed at the center of a story that sells itself as fictional. This makes a film within a film the theme, which means that director Derrickson partly jumps on the found footage bandwagon without trampling on the almost dead theme again in the same way as his (still successful) competition.
The plot obviously has some references to the haunted house subgenre (a building with a dark past is no longer really original today), it also has the classic “spooky child” theme and almost tells a dramatic story, by shedding light on the main character’s mental decline. The plot is too thick in places and sometimes seems too stereotypical, along the lines of “Family is growing apart and can only find each other when evil is defeated”. Since the story ultimately develops in a completely different direction, “Sinister” cannot be compared to similarly designed horror films. The special highlight of the film is the fact that it is apparently an average film, but especially towards the end it turns out to be a completely unique and, in the truest sense of the word, incomparable representative of the genre.
The performances by the well-arranged cast of actors are attractive across the board, with Ethan Hawke in particular standing out, who stated in an interview that he particularly enjoyed looking insecure throughout. That’s not difficult, after all he embodies the only true main character in “Sinister”. The other characters are designed as supporting characters in terms of their statements and screen time, but that doesn’t bother them. Although their rare appearance means they don’t degenerate into lively staffage, they don’t steal the show from Hawke either. Particularly noteworthy here are the performances of the young actors, with little Clare Foley’s role as the daughter in particular developing into an increasingly central figure over time.
Conclusion: “Sinister” has a surprising, coherent story that leads to an unexpected, goosebumps ending. The actors, especially Ethan Hawke, are excellently cast, although the cliched family story is annoying at times. Visually, the realistic Super 8 shots are particularly convincing, as well as a consistently gripping atmosphere that does not rely on cheap shock effects, but rather on deep emotions.
“Sinister” has been in USA cinemas since November 22nd.