Sinister is a horror thriller that was released in 2012. A commercial smash at the time, Sinister grossed over $87 million against a production budget of $3 million!
Directed by Scott (Doctor Strange) Derrickson and starring Ethan Hawke, Sinister has an intriguing premise.
This is our story analysis of Sinister and it will contain spoilers. So be warned!
Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) is a well-known true crime writer who has moved his family (viz. wife Tracy, their son, Trevor, and their daughter, Ashley) into a new home, ostensibly to work on his new book. But Oswalt is hiding an awful truth from his family – the house was the location of a grisly murder, where virtually an entire family was hanged with one child missing.
Unfortunately, the premise alone is not able to save Sinister from being a poor movie. The characters are under-developed and the plot is too predictable, with the ending somewhat telegraphed by the end.
Which is a pity as the premise itself was strong and should have made for a satisfying horror movie if the film makers had bothered to build up the characters and the plot on this premise.
Of course, Oswalt is the protagonist but he is a very passive one. Now, here’s the rub. Oswalt discovers early on, a box in the attic that contains a projector and several reels of Super 8 mm footage, each labelled as home movies.
The films are footage depicting the murder of different families in various ways, including hanging, drowning, throat-cutting, and arson. This ridiculously convenient discovery never once disturbs Oswalt and he simply takes what he witnesses into his stride.
Sure, the movie establishes that the police department dislike Oswalt and will not in all likelihood provide him with much assistance. Also, the movie also reveals that Oswalt is desperate for this book to be a success, both commercially and critically.
But these plot points should not make Oswalt dumb enough to continue to investigate the crimes in the videos without alerting law enforcement or anyone at all. Yes, he does enlist the aid a local deputy and an occult expert when he discovers occult links but still he is oblivious to the risks to himself and his family.
Oswalt is supposed to be a true crime writer and he is not intelligent to forsee the dangers of pursuing his investigations unaided or protecting his family? He is either too arrogant or simply dumb, either way these traits make him unlikable and the audience is unable to engage with him.
Worse still, Oswalt is given enough signs – jump scares mainly – that something is very wrong with his investigation. How does he not once more take more precautions to protect his family and himself? Sigh. Very frustrating.
Inevitably, Oswalt’s failure to take action ultimately leads to his and his family’s demise. It’s all rather predictable and boring at the end. The lack of engagement with Oswalt makes us also not being able to emphatize with his tragic fate.
There are some superficial parallels with the superior Hereditary here. The classic 70s horror vibe (though Sinister has too many unnecessary jump scares for my liking) and the dark ending are shared. However, whereas Hereditary succeeded in terms of character and plot development, Sinister failed miserably. Avoid.
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