Directed by Scott Derrickson
A flwed but wholly creepy, interesting horror movie with a strong central performance by Ethan Hawke and plenty of scares.
Before I continue on with this review, let this first be clear: I both hoped and expected this movie to be better. Though the scares are plentiful, they are done in a cheap, generic manner that leave you not as much disturbed as simply startled. Jump-scares may be adequate for releasing tension and giving the audience the cheap thrills they've paid for, but the lasting effects are less than thrilling. Still, when done well they can be quite startling, and there were several moments in this movie that made me nearly leap out of my seat.
Many of the scares in this movie are of the most generic sort. Something pops out in front of the camera to the sound of a scream, or other sudden noises. This is perfectly fine, as most of the time, the build-up is very suspenseful and release of tension is quite well-executed. But when a scare is intended solely for the audience without the characters' knowledge of it, I can't help but to think the presentation is flawed. Several of the film's biggest scares are done just for the audience, as if the perpetrator of the scaring is wholly aware of the camera. Is this a documentary? No, it's not. So there's no reason why anyone in the film should be aware of the camera. It's equivalent to showing the boom mic in the corner of the screen -- only even more obvious.
I feel as if I'm dwelling on the scare tactics in this film more than I should, but I still have one thing left to say in regards to the horror in this horror movie. In most of the effective horror films of the past, the "safe zone" is far smaller than what is found in Sinister. During day scenes, you will feel no urge to cling to your seat in fear, as you are fully aware that nothing will happen to the characters during these moments. It's only during night scenes that you feel any sense of danger, giving the audience a break from the tension. Though some viewers may appreciate this use of the safe zone, I feel it does nothing but dissolve the atmosphere, making the movie a simple thrill-ride with no staying power.
As far as the story goes, it's fairly generic horror fare, with a hint of criminal investigation thrown in during the slower portions. I was slightly letdown by the ending, as it followed the formula I was fearing would take place. Without giving anything away, I feel the movie revealed itself for what it really was too early, almost instantly eliminating any and all mystery it had before giving it a chance to grow into something more. As far as the acting goes, the only significant performance (or role, for that matter) belongs to Ethan Hawke, who gives a very believable performance. His reactions are often what make the scares (he is aware of) so effective, often reacting in ways not unlike you might expect yourself to react in similar situations.
All-in-all, I'm making this movie sound worse than it really is. My rating alone should tell you this was not my intention, but I still had problems with it. The ending may have been a bit typical, a majority of the characters were nothing more than cardboard cut-outs, and the atmospheric tension was choppy and inconsistent, but all things considered, this is a cool, creepy, effective horror movie. I was just hoping for more.