Directed by Scott Derrickson
Although mainstream audiences won’t be able to see Scott Derrickson’s new horror treasure, Sinister, until October, a lucky few were able to sneak a peek at midnight last night - the second day of South by Southwest 2012. Starring Ethan Hawke - who was in attendance - Sinister is a found footage film about the people who find the footage, not the people that were unfortunate enough to have their fates documented on doomed Super 8 tape.
The opening sequence is from that footage - an indelible, hypnotic, immediately disturbing image of a family being hung from a tree in their backyard as a pulley system snaps their necks. The footage recurs throughout Sinister, part of the myriad of Super 8 tapes Ethan Hawke’s character, Ellison, finds in the attic of the dead family’s home - a home he has just knowingly moved his wife and kids into.
Besides the obvious bargain, Ellison, a true crime author who has tasted success and is destined to repeat it, uproots his family to investigate a missing girl last seen at the home they now reside in - a cycle Ellison has repeated in the past to research other unsolved cases.
His wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), sensing her husband’s desperation, watches helplessly as Ellison becomes more consumed by the case, her son Trevor’s (Michael Hall D’Addario) night terrors growing more and more severe the deeper his father delves. As Ellison finds that each reel he unfurls depicts other murders of seemingly random families spanning multiple decades, he discovers a puppeteer of sorts named “Mr. Boogie” - a name he discovers in a child’s drawing featuring every grisly, pre-meditated murder etched out in creepy stick figures. After Ellison unhinges even further, he begins to be convinced that the occult is somehow involved, forcing him to confront the fact that he and his family are now part of the story he is trying desperately to solve.
The raw Super 8 footage of the murders and the striking, black-eyed creature seen observing in the background - again known as “Mr. Boogie” - already makes Sinister one of the most memorable horror films of the year. What looks to be a series of serial murders by an unseen killer, the diverse methods used are truly horrifying, showing a cold, pre-meditated indifference through a grainy lense of forgotten torture deteriorated by time and neglect. But the driving force is watching the mystery unwrap within the haunting frames Ellison uncovers as the fate of his family is ultimately decided.
An ancient evil is lurking in the background of Sinister; it makes you want to throw your old home movies away and never open the attic door again.
4 out of 5