Directed By: Scott Derrickson
“Don’t worry Daddy, I’ll make you famous.”
I can’t make another found-footage-as-train joke lets not, but know that for reasons that I can’t explain we have another entry to the genre – kind of. This time the director of Urban Legend: Final Cut and one of about eighteen Hellraiser sequels throws his hat into the ring, and brings legitimate thespian Ethan Hawke along for the ride.
The movie opens unnervingly enough, with silent super-8 footage of a family being hanged from a tree. It’s a great sequence, and a it’s an attention grabbing way to open the film. We then meet Ethan Hawke and family moving into their new home (I have a strange feeling a lot of films this month are going to involve people in new homes). He’s a true crime writer who’s having a bad period and has moved to a Pennsylvania town to investigate the disappearance of a young girl (We quickly learn her family is the one killed at the start). As an aside, I don’t think that true crime writers up and move house to wherever they’re investigating, but I digress. In the attic he finds a series of Super-8 reels and a projector, each reel contains footage of a family being stalked and murdered in a ritualistic fashion. Inevitably, and because otherwise it’ll be a short film, things start to go poorly.
The movie isn’t wholesale found-footage, but in this case there is literally the finding of footage, so it already has an edge on some of the other movies I’ve seen in the genre. However it does manage to use the scarcity of it effectively and in one case in particular it elicits a great scare; who knew a lawnmower could be so scary?
The rest of the film works fine, with Hawke being scared by things that go bump in the night, but nothing else in the movie offers up the creepiness that the footage does (Despite the fact that, and this is a very nerdy complaint, the footage shown in widescreen instead of the correct ratio – told you it was nerdy). The movie also takes the curious decision to make Hawke a bit of a dick. He talks constantly about the need to provide for his family and how his books helps him speak for the victims but it’s clear that he’s only really in it for the money and fame. You could argue it makes him human, but it’s a strange way to treat the protagonist of your film. Still, Hawke gives it all he has, turning an otherwise level headed man into a sweaty paranoid mess. In other news, Vincent D’Onofrio gets the easiest payday of his career by appearing for two scenes over Skype.
The movie sadly gets a little less interesting as it goes on, with images of spooky children that – while effective – doesn’t work as well as what came before. It also sadly tips its hand a little too much with regard to the end, and so you spend a lot of the running time waiting for the inevitable downbeat ending to occur. Also, in what’s nothing more than a nitpicking issue, Hawke seems to have been cursed with a family of the deepest sleepers known to humanity. The slightest noise wakes Hawke up in the dead of night, however Hawke falling through the ceiling and, on a separate occasion, falling from the attic and screaming, fails to wake even one person in the house.
I guess they can’t all be winners, but when Sinister works it works well. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t live up to the unique, disturbing imagery of the opening scene and falls back on more traditional scares.