Quick question : why do you go see horror films? If you’re anything like me, you don’t expect these things to actually, ya know, scare you anymore, so what’s the point?
I ask this question now because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot for the last 24 hours since seeing director Scott Derrickson’s Sinister. Why? Because this thing actually is scary. And not just in the “jump-outta-your-seat” sense, although there are a few good “cheap scares” of that variety, to be sure. No, it’s the underlying concept here that’s so frightening.
Granted, that wouldn’t really matter if the standard bases weren’t covered so well, but rest assured they are — the casting is pitch perfect, with a decidedly unhealthy-looking Ethan Hawke starring as true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (admit it — you hope he dies on the basis of that name alone), who gets the less-than-bright idea of moving his fucking family into the house of the latest atrocity he’s investigating (a family was hung from a tree in the backyard and their toddler-age daughter has been missing ever since), turning in one of those increasingly-unhinged performances that really rings true; Juliet Rylance hitting the admittedly predictable but well-done notes as his long-suffering wife, Tracy; and (thankfully) failed Presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson putting in a nicely believable turn as the local redneck sheriff.
In addition, director Derrickson has the whole “ramping-up-the-tension” thing down really well, and all the small-but-necessary touches such as moody lighting, minimalist settings, and a damn creepy musical score are present and accounted for. So, hey, on paper, it all looks good, right?
But then, the same can be said for dozens, even hundreds, of horror films over the last few years that have still, at the end of the day, fallen short when it comes to really delivering the goods. The same can’t be said of Sinister, and as mentioned earlier, I think it’s largely down to the fact that the main concept underpinning the proceedings here is both horrific in and of itself and, strangely enough given that it’s based in (fictionalized) ancient superstition, believable. You can see this kind of shit going down in the house next door, and you might not necessarily even know that it’s happening.
That, right there, is why Derrickson and his cohorts should take a bow for their efforts here. They’ve managed to deliver a story that, sure, is fantastic, in and of itself, but is also one that we can all relate to, featuring characters we can easily relate to, as well. The end result isn’t just the scariest thing to come out of a major Hollywood studio in 2012 (hell, in the past several years, truth be told), but also one of the most inventive, most creative, and most well-executed. I can’t recommend it highly enough. So why, indeed, do we really go see most horror films? There are probably countless reasons, but Sinister is a stark reminder than any of these flicks that don’t actually scare us are really just wasting our time.