Tardy Critic’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sinister stars Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt, a struggling writer looking for his next big book deal. Unbeknownst to his family, Oswalt has just moved them into a home where a gruesome crime took place to draw inspiration and resources for his next story. While moving in, he discovers several Super 8 films in the attic, each showing a family being brutally executed in a variety of ways. One of the families were the previous residents of the house. As he works to figure out what really happened to them, Oswalt discovers a connection between all of the murders shown on the Super 8 movies and is determined to solve the mystery as part of his next piece of work. However, things begin to spiral for him as he learns of a dark presence that has influenced these murders and he worries that his whole family is in danger.
Reception at the Time
With horror, ratings and reactions need to sometimes be taken with a grain of salt. Looking at scores, the movie is in the low 60s on Rotten Tomatoes from both critics and audiences, just above the “fresh” line. It may be too scary and disturbing for some, but that didn’t stop people from seeing it. Sinister was quickly embraced by general audiences and earned $87 million on a production budget of only $3 million. Every few years, a movie clings to the “this is the scariest movie you’ll ever see” marketing campaign and it typically works! Its commercial success helped vault Derrickson’s status as an up-and-coming director. You may have heard about his follow-up movie, Doctor Strange, from a little production company called Marvel Studios.
At the time of its release, the horror genre was coming off an embarrassing run of poorly received reboots and remakes like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies, to name a few. Sinister didn’t quite launch a franchise like Insidious or The Conjuring, but it should be grouped in with those original supernatural horror movies that reset the genre at the time.
Does it Hold Up?
In my opinion, Sinister not only holds up but should be part of a regular rotation of annual re-watches come October. It’s certainly not for everyone, but the story is effective enough to overlook some of the rushed plot points and provides a delightful combination of dreadful build-up, haunting jump scares, and gnarly kills. One of the themes present in Hawke’s main character is his obsession with true crime and, given the massive success of the Netflix’s Dahmer series, that sits well with today’s audiences. Recently, Scott Derrickson and Ethan Hawke reunited for The Black Phone, one of many commercially successful horror releases of 2022.
Ethan Hawke is doing work with his performance. While the main story focuses on the murders and the evil presence behind them, Oswalt’s obsession sends him on a slow burn into madness and the movie probably doesn’t work as well as it does without Hawke’s acting.
The sound design on this movie is on another level. The sense of dread built up by the sound alone is enough for viewers to overlook some of the tropes or silly elements at play in the movie. The sound even hits perfectly for the jump scares. Speaking of…
Broadband Choices conducted a study with Sinister where viewers were hooked up to heart rate monitors while watching films. While watching the movie, the average viewer’s heart rate jumped 32 percent over what their resting heart rate was. With this being the highest among the films sampled in the study, the company named Sinister the scariest movie of all time.
Sinister is a moderately successful horror movie from a time when the genre was due for a spark. Though there’s nothing remarkable about it, nearly everything is solid. Plus, the movie really delivers on the scares. If you haven’t seen this movie and are curious, please check it out. You’ll know by how you react to the opening scene if your heart can handle it or not.
Review by Devin Rubink