Well, I’m a bit late on this one, considering everybody and their dog has probably seen or at least heard of this horror extravaganza.I’ve always planned Spooktober as a way to introduce people to lesser known or even downright obscure horror flicks, but sometimes I’ll make an exception. Partly why I chose Sinister as a prime candidate for this review series is mainly due to the notion that its main character is a writer (I’ll get into why soon enough).
The film introduces us to a character who goes by the name of Ellison, a true crime author who moves into a new home with his wife and two kids. Once he gets there however, he stumbles across a collection of film reels, each showing the murder of a family. Each one has a pattern; the youngest family member is always shown to be missing, and the rest are killed in various mannerisms which include, but are not limited to: drowning, burning, hanging and even being savagely torn apart by a lawnmower. Heavily disturbed by these grisly murders, Ellison with his trusted whiskey bottle in hand, decides on trying to piece together the events as inspiration for his upcoming novel (a big turn around considering most horror films often have the protagonist solving the mystery for some selfless reason or for survival purposes). Sooner or later, he begins to come into direct contact with a spiritual entity known as Bughuul, which proceeds to haunt him and his family.
The absolute best element of Sinister is how it builds its atmosphere. Scenes showcasing the protagonist sneaking about in the dark are accompanied by soft, droning noises used to build tension to a substantial degree. The camera sometimes switches positions, oftentimes focused on the main character’s face as he investigates, while other times revealing an entire room as if to hint at a creature sighting. The music, camerawork and cinematography are all exercised appropriately to instil an impression of dread and restlessness into the viewer. But honestly, these are all aspects of most successful horror flicks are they not? And you’d be right.
In fact, the main draw of Sinister isn’t its clever usage of atmosphere and sound, but rather how it handles the presentation of the various films that Ellison views throughout. Each film is filmed with a super 8 mm camera, meaning that the footage displayed ends up with a grainy, worn out filter over it, heightening the disturbing nature of these tapes due to how authentic they end up feeling. Its as if you’re legitimately watching a series of short snuff films, filmed via handheld by some deranged psycho who’s decided to leave them lying about his dingy basement. While some of the murders are often not shown, the implications of them are clear. In fact, by keeping a lot of the murder sequences out of view, it only makes them more disturbing, instead allowing us, the audience, to imagine the results in our own time.
I’d also like to touch upon the main character’s motivation for delving deeper into the mystery, as it has a lot of relevance for me as an aspiring writer. You see, I used to write a tad bit of fiction prior to entering my first year at university (I never bothered with it afterwards mainly because I was so busy managing relationships, time, assignments and job hunting). When I was around 8 or 9 years of age, I got really invested in becoming an author due to an assignment I participated in (which involved writing my own short story), and I was dead set on shaping it into a career path of mine. I even finished writing my first fiction novel of over 15 chapters, taking much of my inspiration from The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events (maybe a little too much inspiration). I even went on to work on a sequel and another fiction novel that was much better written than my previous one. Well, I kind of abandoned that for a while considering my creative juices were sort of flowing out and found a solace in fanfiction instead (I could share a link to my fanfiction.net account, but its got a lot of cringy content). I had begun to grow obsessed with creating crossovers featuring characters from different media duking it out amongst one another. While my pursuits might have taken a temporary break, I still couldn’t stop thinking of what to write about. Witnessing certain films, interactions, experiences and so on have given me additional ideas to ponder about before laying down my ground plan. My point here is, most of what people write about are often more than not based off their own experiences in life, whether it be through the people they interact with or even the stories they’ve grown fond of. Ellison’s main motivation for discovering the mystery behind the tapes is mainly because of the inspiration it’ll give him for his next novel. Since he writes for the true crime genre, what better way to get started than to take a gander at murder scenes, especially the more mysterious ones? And that’s why I happen to relate to protagonists like Ellison; influences motivate us to write, to get our stories started, to help us cope with it. So, if you’re willing to write a novel, my initial advice is to get outside and experience life. Meet with people, listen to their stories, make friends, get some pussy, you know the drill. Sure, this is advice most writers give anyways, but its really the best kind for anyone who wants to start writing.
Sadly, the film does retain some of the typical jumpscare techniques used by a lot of modern horror to this day. I’m talking loud noises, screams, spirits jumping out of nowhere and so on. It feels cheap and while it is effective in some cases (such as the infamous lawnmower sequence for instance), it does lose a lot of value for adhering to principals that have proven to startle than to frighten. Kind of hurts the film’s credibility for me, but then again, at least its not one of those horror flicks that constantly utilizes jumpscares for nothing more than mere shock effect. Some of the moments where the characters are shown screaming are done so loud and inhumanly, that I can’t tell if the filmmakers are trying to use it to drive pure terror down our throats or startle their viewers with an otherworldly sound effect. There’s a reason why lots of screamer prankers adjust the pitches of screams to create something truly shocking. Sadly, its only temporary, as jumpscares often more than not don’t lead to night terrors unlike genuine scares.
Also, Bughuul looks too much like a rock star. I mean look at him with his fuzzy hair, white makeup and black clothing. If not that, then he just looks like a faceless version of The Joker from The Dark Knight. Plus, with a bit of Slenderman added in for extra flavour. Yeah, I’m sorry, but I don’t find him scary in the slightest based purely on his design. Reminds me way too much of a member of the KISS band.
In the end, Sinister isn’t anything that unique to write home about. However, the well-placed scares, the disturbing presentation of the VHS tapes and the psychological implications of a supernatural event on a successful writer, really goes to show how much of an exhilarating experience it would be to grab some booze and hit this up with some of your best buds. Ah, just like good times, ain’t it?
Anyways, I’ve got to wrap this up real quick. I’m certain I just caught a glimpse of Bughuul out of the corner of my eye. Hopefully I don’t end up getting killed, cause otherwise I won’t have a review up by tomorrow.
Final verdict: 6/10