It’s rare that the conclusion of a film is completely encapsulated in its theatrical poster, and perhaps even rarer so for horror films, in which the suspense is most of the fun. Not so for Scott Derrickson’s new movie, Sinister, however. The same goes for the trailer: viewing this will pretty much reduce watching Sinister down to guessing what order the scares are going to come in. If fear of the unknown is your main horror thrill, then watching the trailer is definitely a bad idea.
Unfortunately, even avoiding the trailer does not make predicting the plot very difficult. When true-crime writer Ellison Osbourne (played by Ethan Hawke) promises his wife that for once they haven’t “moved in two doors down” from an old crime scene, it’s not difficult to work out exactly where they are, or what’s going to happen next. The movie then plays out as a string of obvious clichés and jump scares – it’s no surprise when the police aren’t called in, and easy to tell which noises in the night are just Osbourne’s kids out of bed.
Ellison himself, the writer who can’t figure out who keeps turning on his projector, is a similarly derivative character. His frustrating predilection for leaving the lights off during the hours of darkness is paired with a habit of writing and speaking in short, easy-to-follow sentences clearly aimed at any viewer who might have dropped off for a few minutes. Perhaps he’d be more sympathetic if the audience got to know him better; as it is, there’s only one emotionally weighted conversation in the whole film. Worse, this one argument between Osbourne and his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) is so melodramatic that it’s easier to laugh than feel any sympathy for either character. Tracy, meanwhile, also seems to display an ability to sleep though any number of night time bangs and crashes, leaving Ellison to investigate alone in the darkness – helpful in building tension, but damaging to the believability which can actually make a horror film terrifying.
The frights too are completely unimaginative – it’s rare to see the ‘jump in front of the camera’ technique played out completely seriously, but that’s what happens here. Flickering lights and creaking doors both make appearances. The only scene with any actual shock value is over before the film has even really begun (as well as making a full appearance in the trailer). In terms of cinematography, Sinister always plays safe: murky colours and claustrophobic camerawork are pretty much par for the course when it comes to horror, and here is no exception.
In fact, this adventurousness sums Sinister up completely – there’s nothing to see here which hasn’t been done before. If you’re stuck waiting for Paranormal Activity 4, then Sinister might fill in the gap; if you’re looking for an original chiller, definitely go elsewhere. Instead, watch the trailer, or even just glance at the poster.