If you ask any of my friends, they can all tell you that my favorite holiday is Halloween. I go all out. I watch at least three horror films a week during the month of October. One movie, though, has come back throughout the years. Some watch “Halloween” every October 31, for obvious reasons, but I watch Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister.” Not only is it one of my favorite horror films, but it’s also one of my favorite movies.
It’s an understatement to say that Scott Derrickson is talented. Looking at his filmography, there are few movies that are below average. The standouts in his film catalog are Marvel Studio’s “Doctor Strange,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and “Sinister.” Each are very different films and great on their own regard, but I’d argue that “Sinister” stands out above the rest.
“Sinister” follows Ellison, played by Ethan Hawke, a murder novelist who moves his family into a new town. The problem, though, is that he moved his family into a house where the family before was found dead. They weren’t just found dead, but the entire family was found hanging from a fallen tree branch. Ellison made the decision to not tell his family about this incident, instead acting like everything was okay. Soon, Ellison finds reels of 8mm film that contains footage of the family who lived in the house previously being hanged and other murders. Slowly, Ellison finds that these murders are connected in a terrifying way. These connections lead Ellison down a dark path as he unravels what is at the heart of the murders.
“Sinister” is one of the most tense experiences I’ve had watching a film. The film is unrelenting as it masterfully builds up to scares. Even though they start in a cliché manner, every scare in the film finds a way to twist the cliché in a way that audiences don’t see coming. From the famous lawnmower scene to extremely flexible children, each scare is great in its own right. Oftentimes, horror films rely on loud music and flashy camera tricks to scare audiences, but “Sinister” never pulls away. It racks up the tension by never backing out of a scene until the film feels that it earns its scares.
The film, though never graphic, makes you feel every second. Time goes slower watching Ellison sift through the reels of film. Sometimes you may want to look away, but you just can’t bring yourself to. This is a sign of not just a good horror film, but a great one. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking, and one that will haunt your dreams for years.