“Sinister” gains credit as great horror film

File photo.
File photo.

Horror movies, in my opinion, are the hardest ones to pull off. Some are great for thrill-seeking scare junkies, but when they turn out to be stinkers, you can tell big time. Too many these days are reliant on blood, gore and jump-scares, or as they are more commonly known, the “easy way out.” If you have seen a horror film then you know what I’m talking about: the ones where something will pop out at you, make you jump in your seat for that second and that second only, and will leave no lasting impression in your mind as to what you just watched. I am pleased to write that ”Sinister” is the opposite of these types of films. ”Sinister” is the type of film where you aren’t only scared for a cheap split-second, but you are tense for a majority of its running time. That’s a rare thing these days and one that should be celebrated.

“Sinister” also proves that you can have both a horror movie and a real story to go along with it. Who knew? It stars Ethan Hawke (one of the most underrated actors out there in my opinion) as a struggling writer of real-life murder stories who is trying to reclaim the fame he had early on in his career. Stories that deal with obsession of this level are some of the more interesting ones because they show how far someone will go to achieve their goals and dreams, even if it means killing themselves on the inside. It is also a “one man show” kind of movie. Not to the extent of John Cusack in “1408” or James Franco in “127 Hours,” but the audience is alone with Hawke for a majority of the movie, observing what his desires are and what happens when he’s all alone with no one to reach out to. It’s strange to think of horror movies as character studies, but Ellison (Hawke) is such a richly-played character that the audience can’t help but be sucked into his journey and study what really drives him.

I’m not the type of individual who gets scared during movies. Rarely do they ever scare me. I’m not trying to sound like a tough guy, those are just the facts. This movie didn’t make me lose any sleep or anything, but I haven’t been this frightened in a movie theater in ages. For almost the whole running time I had my fists clenched up, and I leaned on the edge of my seat at times just because of how involved I was. As I’ve said, the scariest parts didn’t have to do with things popping out at you: no, the parts that really got to me were when Hawke would go through the dark house all by himself holding only a single light to illuminate his face and everything around him. The sounds and scenery were enough to give me chills, and that’s really interesting. It proves that scary movies don’t need things to happen, but it should create an atmosphere where the hair on your neck sticks up just by looking at it. Director Scott Derrickson truly knows how to set up a horror scene and create an atmosphere that gives you chills, which leads me to believe that he will have a future in this type of film.

The real selling point that drew me to this movie was the idea of playing off the found-footage genre in a new way. The filmmakers said they were always intrigued by found-footage movies, but they wanted to see the story of the person who actually found the footage and not just what goes on inside of the camera. That’s not something we think about when watching the “Paranormal Activity” movies and it was very nice to see it put into practice. After moving his family to a new location to write his book, Ellison stumbles upon a box with an old projecter and a few Super 8 films with odd labels on them. “Don’t watch the films,” the audience longs to shout. “Haven’t you ever seen a horror film before?” But Ellison is a determined man who wants juicy material for his writing. What better way to get it than watching some creepy home movies about murder? He found the footage, we see what he sees, we react to what he reacts to and it makes for great entertainment.

As I mentioned before, I think horror is the most difficult genre to tackle. This is because it is almost impossible to get rid of clichés and predictability. Co-writer C. Robert Cargill pens a terrific story full of great characters and suspense, but not even he can make all the things audience members tend to dislike about horror movies go away. For the first hour or so of the movie I could tell what was going to happen and when it would happen. Granted, the stuff still made me jump, but I knew what and when it would be nonetheless. Even though the creepy atmosphere makes for the scariest part of the film, this is still jam-packed with jump scares that, while still making your heart race, come off as cheap.

Especially considering that I don’t get scared often in movies, this one was special. It really made me get chills down my spine that got me involved and alert throughout the story, and most of the time I was rewarded for it. An outstanding performance from Ethan Hawke was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. The guy is a great actor, but of all movies  he chooses this one to really show off his talent as an all-star. The frights and performances come together to make a memorable horror movie that people should seek out if they are into this sort of thing. The ending may not be one people want to see, but it’s a necessary one that makes sense to the plot and one that I like more and more as I think about it. This is not one of the best movies of the year, but it is the best horror movie in quite some time, which is still high praise.

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