Sinister: A Movie Review
Sometimes, I wonder if there is something wrong with me. I’m a good person, more or less. I don’t rob convenience stores or cheat on my taxes or spit on people from atop overpasses. But still, I wonder if there is something a bit off about me. It’s not because the books I read tend to involve haunted mansions or demonic clowns; not because my favorite video games involve monsters attacking you in an abandoned amusement park; not because my preferred type of movie is the kind where some outside force goes around murdering people in all sorts of terrible ways. No, I see nothing wrong with any of those activities and I’ll gladly defend those as appropriate works of art as I see fit. But here’s my issue: I don’t get scared when I see these things. I don’t get scared at all and considering the point of all the above-mentioned activities is to scare you, I sometimes wonder.
Sinister is, by all accounts, a scary movie. Glancing at the reviews collated on Wikipedia, it seems like a good number of reviews found it pretty scary, the sort of thing that Peter Debruge of Variety calls it a “tale that would paralyze kids’ psyches.” E! Online (not exactly the expert on this sort of thing, but I guess they have seen a few movies in their time) drafted a pretty competent list of Eight Reasons Sinister is the Scariest Movie of the Year and I’m hard pressed to argue with some of their reasoning there. Ignoring the critics, however, and just paying attention to the people I was watching it with (my wife and her cousin), they found it pretty damn scary. They both remarked that they thought the movie would give them nightmares. But me? Nope.
Sinister focuses on Ethan Hawke’s Ellison, a true-crime writer who had a massive hit with his first book (so massive that he was apparently able to buy a mansion for his family) but whose later works were not so well received. That might even be an understatement, considering local law enforcement (a brief one-note role for Fred Thompson) is convinced that his theories in his most recent book actually helped a killer go free. Ellis is desperate for another hit, allegedly because his family is broker than they have ever been. But it’s pretty obvious from early in the film that Ellis doesn’t just want to pay the bills; he wants to be famous. He’s more than willing to uproot his family and install them in a home where the previous occupants were actually murdered in order to do research for his next book; one that he hopes will be his version of In Cold Blood, the seminal Capote classic. His obsession with writing this book is such that he ignores all common sense when weird things start happening (taking a baseball bat to a demon fight), lying to his wife about living inside an actual murder house, ignoring when his kids start acting out in bizarre ways. I was told by my wife to take notes on how not to be this crazy in the midst of writing a book.
To his credit, it does look like he’s on to something when he finds a bunch of Super 8 films in the attic. The films are cleverly named things like Family Hanging Out and Lawn Work, but Family Hanging Out ends with a family being hung from a tree in the backyard and Lawn Work has a naughty lawn mower. Ellis could have taken the snuff films to the police, but his obsession with fame leads him to suppress the evidence and continue his research. By that point, it probably would have been too late for him; even if he had turned over the films, the Bughuul would still have come from him. Known as Mr. Boogie to his victims, the Bughuul is a Pagan demon invented for this film that exists in images, emerging to kidnap children and eat their souls. Played by Nick King, the Mr. Boogie of this film is supposed to be creepy and sinister (yeah, I went there), but as a villain he fell flat for me. Mr. Boogie looks like the stereotypical goth kid and he really doesn’t do anything in this movie. He’s just standing around staring at people, and I don’t know about you, but I like my villains to do more than that. Mr. Boogie’s victims end up doing more than he does and that’s another unfortunate aspect of the film; the make-up on these dead kids is pretty terrible, some of the actors are pretty bad, and the direction they’ve been given is laughable at times. A scene where Eliis is walking his house with the afore-mentioned baseball bat and ends up being watched by the children actually drew chuckles from me; the kids pop into frame for a jump scare and then…run away in slow-motion. This happens repeatedly and it’s an absolutely excellent way to ruin any suspense the film had built up. They have a scene later in the film where they put their fingers to their lips to indicate that a secret must be kept and some of those kids are really, really bad at looking creepy.
It’s a shame, really, because Ethan Hawke turns in a terrific performance, and the movie does try to be more suspenseful than gross. Despite the awful acts committed on film, most of the deaths occur in reflections or in bloodless ways. The central idea in this film is a decent one and I was able to turn off some of the movie’s plot holes while watching, which is always a good thing. I don’t think there was anything this movie could have done to scare me (see above), but it would have gotten a lot closer for me if it wasn’t for those damn kids.