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  Sinister Reel To Real
Year: 2012
Director: Scott Derrickson
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D'Addario, Clare Foley, Rob Riley, Tavis Smiley, Janet Zappala, Victoria Leigh, Cameron Ocasio, Ethan Haberfield, Danielle Kotch, Blake Mizrahi, Vincent D'Onofrio
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is an author of true crime books, but he is beginning to fall on harder times than he would like for himself and his family, so really needs another successful product. Therefore he takes said family, sells their too-expensive house and moves into another one near a smalltown in the countryside, not telling them he has an ulterior motive for doing so: the new house is actually the location of a recent murder where the previous family were found dead in the back garden, all except for the youngest child who has gone missing. But research is research, right?

Writer and director Scott Derrickson's previous horror movie had been The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a truly dreadful item of blood and thunder reprehensibly posing as a true story, so for many the thought of him returning to the chiller arena, especially after a distinctly underwhelming remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, was not one to fill them with anticipation. However, then an odd thing happened as the script he penned with C. Robert Cargill, though derivative of J-Horror from the Far East, turned out to be the basis for some very satisfying spooky atmosphere and a surprisingly well crafted mood of unease.

Thus Sinister became a sleeper hit, not a juggernaut of a blockbuster by any means, but it did very well for what was a minor, modestly budgeted horror flick which few had much in the way of expectations for. That was not exactly down to the plot, which was a fairly basic affair resembling a creepy variation on Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, and more thanks to a carefully conjured set of scenes where Ellison would apparently forget he has a light switch in every room of his new home and end up getting frightened out of his wits by delving into the unsolved murders which had an unexpected (for him) angle to them. The sound design in particular was very nicely handled, knowing when to go for the big shocks but just as easily being quiet.

Well, not entirely quiet, as there was always a degree of ambient noise which made this seem as if someone had paid a lot of attention to the scarier, low key scenes of David Lynch's Lost Highway. The same idea of the house itself as a bad place which is revealed to be only as bad as what happened to its inhabitants was well to the fore, though actually Cargill said the idea for the story stemmed from a nightmare he had after a late night viewing of The Ring, and there were points here which did make the film come across as an adaptation of a Japanese horror even though it was an original plot, or as original as mainstream horror movies could get by this stage in the genre's lengthy existence.

What happens to Ellison is that once he has moved in, he finds a box in the attic which contains a projector and a few Super 8 film reels, making this a rare found footage movie which concentrated on the person who found the footage rather than making the footage take up the bulk of the film. He is shocked to see those reels contain images of not only the previous tenants being elaborately murdered, but other families meeting similarly sticky ends, yet doesn't feel he can go to the police because he has blotted his copybook with the law since what he has published is very contentious - basically the cops don't like him much. One cop (James Ransone) does, however, and helps him with the research as strange things begin to occur, with the more they find out the more they are caught up in a trap laid by something possibly demonic. Written down Sinister sounded awfully corny, but it played very well thanks to that emphasis on the atmosphere and a savvy in twisting what could be clich├ęs into genuine tension. Music by Christopher Young, which sounds like ominous Boards of Canada.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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