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Sinister: Can’t be unseen

Claire Stephens | Tuesday, October 23, 2012

If you want to be on the edge of your seat from beginning to end, “Sinister” is the movie for you this Halloween.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have most of the horror movie clichés – a house haunted by dead children, a dark attic that goes bump in the night, electronics that inexplicably turn themselves on, a protagonist who walks around with the lights off at night and so forth. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be scared when bad things happen or won’t be horrified and tense by the things that make the movie different and truly disturbing.
“Sinister” follows a true crime writer and his family as they move yet again to a small town so he can write about unsolved crimes. The town, especially the police department, is tense and unwelcoming at his arrival, not wanting to reopen the wounds of the murders he is writing about. He makes the brilliant choice of actually moving his family into the house of the murder victims, where an entire family was hanged by a tree in the backyard.
Everything starts to go wrong when he finds a box of Super 8 films and a projector in the attic. The films begin as harmless home videos, followed by entire families being murdered in their own homes. The grainy, amateur videos put a creeping terror into the audience that is hard to shake, even after the movie is over. Although these murders are not very bloody or violent, they are too realistic and domestic for comfort; there is something truly disturbing about seeing a mother, father and child being drowned in their own swimming pool or set on fire in the family car.
The horror of these videos doesn’t stop with just images either. While it is a staple of horror films for the audio to be the source of the scares, the score of “Sinister” goes a step further. The strange, unusual and undeniably creepy accompanying soundtrack burns the videos both into your mind’s eye and ear. “Sinister” may use forgettable horror movie clichés, but the videos are something you’ll never be able to forget once you see them. If you don’t think you can stomach the home videos, don’t go – they’re shown frequently throughout and are a huge part of the plot of the film.
Don’t come if you can’t handle constant tension either. Unlike most horror movies that begin with an ordinary introduction of characters and locations or has safe moments in the daylight, “Sinister” never gives the audience a break. The tone is set from the first second of the film with the home video of a family being hanged. Even when chatting at the dinner table with the kids, the shadowy lighting all throughout the film gives the audience an impending sense of danger. Movies like “Paranormal Activity” tease you by leading you to expect something when nothing actually happens; “Sinister” makes you feel like something is always wrong.
In a way, something is always wrong: those videos can never been unseen by the protagonist, but you’ve seen them now too. The power of the supernatural comes from the viewing of the films, much like “The Ring,” and the audience is part of the viewing too.
“Sinister” is a well-made horror movie for using cinematography together with content to keep the audience constantly uneasy. Amateur murder videos, a reappearing demonic figure and a haunted house would satisfy horror movie demands. But “Sinister” makes every scene an ominous one by lighting only what is necessary in a scene, leaving all the rest to shadows. Even a cheerful family dinner is creepy when only the table is lit, everything else hidden in darkness. The daytime isn’t much better when the house only seems to be lit by dim natural lighting, still casting shadows everywhere.
The creepy score plays on even when the videos end. Rarely does the music allow you to feel safe, like you’ve escaped the possibility of something terrible happening or that something isn’t about to startle you out of your wits at any second.
The plot may be predictable enough for the genre, but together with the dilemmas of the characters, it will keep you entertained as you try to solve the mystery alongside the protagonist. You might guess how it ends, but it won’t stop you from being shocked when you see it. With many of its producers from “Paranormal Activity,” it blends the home video element together with the creepy, mystery-solving element of “The Ring,” to give the film a relevant plot that instills an uncomfortable sense of terror.
If you’re a brave soul, see it at night. You might be able to sleep, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to control what you see when you close your eyes.
Contact Claire Stephens at
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