Sinister (2012)

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransome, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D'Addario, Clare Foley

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Rating: 1 2 3

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) discovers more than squirrels in his attic in Sinister

Guess what? I managed to #survivesinister. Go me.

But then this classier than average ghosty shocker isn't aimed at cynical old moos like me. Like The Woman in Black or Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Sinister is most definitely a gateway horror film, a slick, big bucks, multiplex crowd scarer destined to lure unwary youths onto the dark path of true terror.

But if my gateway movies back in the '80s were the Freddies (all watched in the wrong order, obviously) is Sinister A Nightmare on Elm Street or Freddy 5: The Dream Child?

Certainly it's exceedingly well done, a masterclass in eerie lighting flickering to a jarringly unsettling electronic soundtrack reminiscent of Trent Reznor's uncanny soundscape for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And of course some first class jumps thrown in for fun. Woohoo!

At the core of the film lies some creepily disturbing found footage, discovered on Super 8 reels in the attic of the new home of Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) and family. Ellison is a struggling writer (of course) whose genius plan for regaining his true crime writing mojo is to move into the house in which a family were all found brutally hanged. Possibly the worst idea since Jack Torrance said 'Hey, I know this great hotel that needs a caretaker...'

Ethan Hawke in Sinister

Like Jack, Ellison soon finds himself haunted: by the fates of the five families he views on the grisly tapes (although kudos to him for actually knowing how to set up a reel to reel player) and by the blurred, twisted face of a ghoulish monster that appears fleetingly in all the footage. And, of course, by things that go bump and whirr and creak in the night. A harsh object lesson in the perils of prioritising career over family? But then missing a couple of parents evenings can hardly be compared to unwittingly sacrificing your kin to a cannibalistic pagan deity. Sorry, spoiler.

As Ellison's investigations – and 3am perambulations – become increasingly alarming, so the tension ratchets up, transforming the deliberately dull, unatmospheric '70s suburban property into a nightmare of shadowy corridors, blind windows and spooky attics with unstable flooring. A shame, then, that some of the most exciting, climactic scenes are revealed in the trailer, which does rather remove the element of surprise.

Speaking of surprise, the ending is not: in fact there's a faint whiff of shaggy dog story about it, the punchline to a protracted, if nail-bitingly suspenseful, urban legend. But don't let that put you off: see this film in the cinema, complete with surround sound you can feel in the pit if your stomach and screaming teenagers pretending not to be scared, and enjoy.

So don't believe the 'horror event of the year' hype (unless you're about twelve): Sinister is not A Nightmare on Elm Street. But hey, it's not the rubbishy remake either. Though perhaps not destined to be a future classic, it's a well-made, reliable, gratifying dose of horror all the same.

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