Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister” had the make up to be just another lame Hollywood horror entry. It stars Ethan Hawke, who as an actor, I really never cared for much up until just this year having recently grown quite fond of the films of Richard Linklater. It was supposedly about a “supernatural writer” (see countless others like 2004’s “Secret Window” or 2007’s “1408” to name a couple) who awakens dark spirits. In essence the pedigree to be just another standard, run-of-the-mill American horror flick. Then, after hearing some positive feedback about it from some friends of mine I decided to give it a whirl. And of all the horror films that I’m going to make mention of over the next week – this is the one that took me by surprise the most.
To me what’s so impressive about “Sinister” are essentially two major elements that were reaffirmed the second time around was 1) the lighting and 2) the use of score. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a film lit quite like this one. The entire film is essentially filmed indoors. And while although if you look closely you can see that certain segments are clearly shot during the day, the creators always keep the blindfolds down smoldering it in darkness. So dark that at many points all there seems to be is one hovering lighting rig looking down. Which can be disorienting because most of the time all you can see is whatever’s in focus. This could be off putting to some. But to me I thought it was completely effective because it constantly had me wondering and asking myself what could possibly be lurking in the shadows (and there are quite a few scares mind you). Second, the score by composer Andrea Nebal is pitch perfect. The way in which it is used, especially during the scenes of panic, tension, or dread, is really effective in rattling the viewer. In fact, the score is so good that I can only think of 2 others that are comparable in recent memory. One of which is my #1 film that is going to complete this list so I don’t dare spoil it. The second being Mica Levi’s remarkable score from this year’s “Under The Skin”. All three scores that really act as second characters in the film and without them the end result in each one of the films wouldn’t be half as great. Now I know both of these 2 aspects I highlighted are purely cinematic ones, and would be a hard sell for someone not interested in such areas of film and I completely understand that. However, I’m not trying to shy away from how truly terrifying this movie is. It’s the type of movie that you will see images on screen that will be forever embedded in your brain that even if you try to forgot you will never be able to “un see”. Which to me is one criteria of horror that I love if done right and isn’t cheap or exploitative. And in the case of this film, not only does it right but does it with an added cherry on top.