Thursday, 30 August 2012



How long has it been since we've had a really good, genuinely frightening movie full of creepy imagery and suspense and darkness as well as jolting shock moments? In the case of this year's Frightfest the delay was actually two days: Friday saw the European Premiere of Buddy Giovinazzo's A Night Of Nightmares and we had to wait until Sunday for this corking exercise in domestic supernatural terror, on a broader canvas but no less effective for it. But as far as the multiplex circuits are concerned, you probably have to go back to Insidious last year for a properly scary horror film.

Sinister is quite possibly that film's equal, and it doesn't have a slightly less effective third act. True crime writer Ethan Hawke moves his family into a new house - the actual crime scene of a mysterious set of killings (they're initially unaware of this, which provides the basis for a hilarious scene later on) about which he's trying to put together a new book. In the attic he finds a box of 8mm home movies and - clearly having never seen a horror movie in his life - sits down to watch them only to find they're snuff films dating back decades and featuring various families being murdered. And closer investigation of the footage reveals strange pagan symbols and a mysterious demonic figure present in every reel. Courtesy of a cameo from Vincent D'Onofrio over a webcam, Hawke manages to identify the figure as an ancient deity named Bagul, the "eater of children"....

Unnerving moments of discovering something hidden in photographs and films that shouldn't be there mix with more straightforward terrors of noises in the attic, spectral children, his daughter's spooky drawings on the wall and the 8mm projector starting up by itself, though the atmosphere is scarcely made more bearable by Hawke's absurd refusal to turn the lights on, preferring instead to wander around his spooky house in the dark, as if the movie is set in an alternative future where the electricity doesn't work after nine o'clock at night.

All this is still deliciously unsettling and occasionally jumpy enough to jolt you out of your seat several times, to put you in that can't-look-must-look zone of peeking at the screen through your fingers. And isn't that what we want from a horror movie sometimes? It's directed by Scott Derrickson, who made The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (another film that unsettled me a little) as well as Hellraiser: Inferno (which emphatically didn't) - and he's also listed as the writer for a forthcoming remake of Poltergeist. That's a project unlikely to touch the original, but if it turns out a quarter as well as Sinister has, it'll still be pretty good.


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