When I was younger, I wasn't really a big fan of manipulative jump-scare ghost movies. I liked my monsters tangible, and usually wielding a creative weapon to better separate their victims into a number of large, bloody chunks. Age has warmed me up to the genre, however, as I've found nothing makes a good date night with my wife like hiding behind your fingers, knowing something bad is going to come up and still jumping when it does. It's like riding on a roller coaster, even though you can see it coming from a mile away, you still get that kick to the gut thrill from them. Recent years have been rife with this particular subgenre of horror (usually with fairly generic sounding titles), partly because it's reliable, partly because it's cheap, and there have been a few fun little gems to come out of this trend (Insidious, The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity 3 come to mind; sorry PA1 & PA2, the fan camera is terrifying), but my favorite of the bunch, and easily the scariest new movie I've seen in a while, is Sinister.
True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is past his prime and looking for another hit to his name. To find this, he moves his family into a house that just one year prior hosted the gruesome mass hanging of a family, and the kidnapping of their young daughter. He feels that if he can blow the case open and maybe even find the young girl, he'll be able to revive his career and name. In the attic of this new home, he finds an old projector and a series of 8mm films that appear innocuous, but upon viewing them he finds them to be of the murders that happened in this home and several more just like them that have taken place over the decades. As interest turns to obsession, Ellison is soon haunted by the evil that hides within the films and must try to stop it before it claims his family.
While the description sounds painfully generic, this is actually a surprisingly classy little film. It's better directed and acted than it has any right to be (Ethan Hawke is a standout in what might have otherwise been a very bland part). It takes a lot of the best tropes of the haunted house genre and plays them to the hilt, with darkness and strange noises sending tingles up the spine. The scares are broadcast fairly far in advance, and yet when they come out they still manage to make me jump (it had me peeking between my fingers more than a few times, though that's sadly quite easy for this jaded horror fan), and though the creepy kid concept has been done to death these days, Sinister manages to put a different spin on it that is both incredibly creepy and, well, downright Sinister. Yeah, I know, cheesy use of title, but in this instance I gotta say it's the best word to apply for it.
While not the greatest, or most original film on this list, it is one I found myself enjoying immensely. Only time will tell if it will climb this list, or drop off it entirely after a subsequent viewing, but for now it earns the # 31 spot among some fairly elite (and some fairly cheesy) company.
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-- Matt Carter
(We know there's a lot of Matt Carter's online you could spend your time with, so thanks for hanging around this one!)