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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Sinister

February 19th, 2013

Sinister - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Sinister is a horror film that opened early in October. Its early reviews were incredible, but by the time it opened its Tomatometer Score fell to just over the overall positive level. This suggests the studio was able to show the film to genre critics, who were more likely to give the film a positive review, before the overall community saw it. I don't begrudge them for doing this. After all, it makes total sense for the studio to want the early good reviews and the genre critics are the ones mostly likely to jump at the chance to review a horror film. And in the end, it still earned good reviews. But does this mean it will be seen as a classic by fans of the genre and only okay by others? And is an okay horror film still worth picking up for casual fans of the genre.

The Movie

The film begins with a super 8 film that shows a family of four being killed by being hanged in a tree, while the murderer is off screen.

After that, we go to the modern day with Ellison Oswalt moving in with his wife, Tracy, and their two kids, Trevor and Ashley. The kids are not thrilled about having to leave their old home, their old school and old friends. However, Ellison says he needed to move to help write his new book. He does promise his daughter that after he writes his book, if they don't like it there, they will move back.

While they are moving in, there are a couple of cops waiting on the other side of the street. Ellison is a true crime writer, and one of the cops wants an autograph. When the Sheriff arrives, he's not too pleased the cops are going to bother the family looking for an autograph. The Sheriff is not a fan of Ellison's work. Ellison writes about true crime and in a previous book, he got some facts wrong and his theory led to the killer getting out of jail. This pretty much killed Ellison's career, so he's hoping revitalize his career with this book, which is why he moved to this town. In fact, this is why he moved to this house. It is this house that was the scene of the crime we saw on film at the beginning of the film. (Of course, Ellison didn't tell his family this.) We also learn in this conversation that there was a fifth member of the family, Stephanie, who wasn't among the victims, but is now missing and presumed dead. If he can figure out where Stephanie is, he will be back on top.

Shortly after moving in, Ellison is putting some things in the attic, he comes across a lone box and inside he finds an old film projector and several reels of super 8 film with innocuous titles like, Family Hanging Out '11 and BBQ '79. When he watches the first film, it starts out like a simple family film, shot by an unknown person, but then it shows the murder we saw at the beginning. Disturbed, he beings to watch the other films, and they all start the same, with an unknown person filming a family together, before the family is murdered on film. At first it is disturbing enough for him to call the police. It is evidence of a crime, after all. However, he decides he really needs something big for his next book, and this could be it. The next day, Ellison continues to look at the films and while watching Pool Party '66, after seeing a family drowned in their pool, he sees a figure in the pool. The evidence is partially destroyed when the film projector melts the film, but it is his first lead into this mystery.

Meanwhile, there are some family issues. Trevor has had night terrors for a while, and the stress of the move as set them off. He also gets into trouble on his first day of his new school. (He found out about the murders his father is writing about.) This doesn't make his wife very happy.

In another film, Sleepy Time '98, Ellison sees a symbol painted on the wall, and also clues to where the murder took place. He also finds more clues in the attic, including references to a Mr. Boogie. He talks to the police deputy, the one that wanted an autograph from the beginning, who offers to help research... in exchange for an acknowledgment in his next book. This is where Ellison learns that the family that were the victims for the more recent murders used to live in the house where the Sleepy Time '98 murders took place. The deputy also suggests Ellison talk to a Professor Jonas, especially if these murders have an occult or ritual angle to them.

At this point, we start to run into spoilers. (I'm assuming the fact that the murders are related isn't a spoiler. After all, if they weren't related, there wouldn't be a movie.)

Sinister is a horror film that generates its scares from a number of sources, including a very good underlying mood. On the other hand, the mood is enhanced, or cheapened depending on your point of view, because there are children involved. Children in peril films are an easy way to make your audience emotionally involved, but they can also be emotionally manipulative, which is a downside. There are also quite a few jump scares, which can be effective, but there's also a diminishing return on these as the film goes on. There are also large stretches where the mood is simply being built. If you are into the film, this is a good thing. If you are not, this will cause pacing issues. Fortunately, the central mystery is effective enough to carry the movie, at least in my opinion. I think the movie will mostly appeal to those who like the research aspect of a supernatural horror. I run a regular game of Call of Cthulhu, which is centered around paranormal investigating. A story like this would fit right into a modern day Call of Cthulhu campaign, so perhaps I'm a little more biased in favor of the film than the average critic. But I think most fans of the genre will like the movie.

The Extras

Extras begin with not one, but two audio commentary tracks. The first is a solo track with the director / co-writer, Scott Derrickson, while in the second track, he is joined by his co-writer, C. Robert Cargill. There is also optional audio commentary on the two deleted scenes. Next up is a nine-minute featurette on real life authors of real life crime novels. And finally there's a featurette on real life murder houses and how people try to sell these house, live in these house, and turn some of these houses into a tourist attraction.

The technical presentation is quite excellent, all things considered. The film only cost $3 million to make and a lot of it takes place in a very dark house, so there's not a lot of bright colors, for instance. However, the blacks are very deep and never eat away at the details either. There are also no compression issues or digital artifacts. The film features a great 7.1 audio track that is really engaging and goes a long way to building the mood. The dialogue is always incredibly clear and there's good separation and dynamic effects. Top notch.

The Blu-ray costs $5 or 33% more than the DVD, which is inline with expectations.

The Verdict

Sinister is one of the better horror films I've seen in a while with excellent mood, as well as strong writing and acting. There are enough extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray that is it worth picking up over just renting. If you are a fan of this subgenre of horror, then it is a must have.

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Filed under: Video Review, Sinister, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Fred Dalton Thompson, Scott Derrickson, Michael Hall D'Addario, James Ransone, Juliet Rylance, Clare Foley, Victoria Leigh, C. Robert Cargill