Taking inspiration from stuff like 8mm and various supernatural chillers, this is a surprisingly solid and effective horror film. While there are scenes of violence, it's not a gorefest, and, amazingly enough trades more in mood and atmosphere to deliver the scares over showing lots of bloodshed. I mean, there is violence, but they only show just enough to get the point across, and more importantly, use it as punctuation to a build up.
There are jump scares, maybe like a handful or so, but for the most part, they work well. Some fall flat, but they most work. One of the crucial elements that really makes this film genuinely eerie and creepy is the music. It's super moody, and pretty groovy. The cinematography is also quite good, and I loved the incorporation of the super 8 footage, though from a story perspective, I'm not sure why it had to be this specifically.
Another nitpicky kind of gripe I have is the film's title. Why call it this? The word sinister isn't said in the movie, but I guess it does fit, if you look at the nature of what happens as being sinister. Other than that though, they could have gone with a better title.
The performances are fine, and the film is well cast. The characters are generally pretty smart, and there are arcs and development, so that's good. The film is generally pretty well written and thought out, and I appreciated that it didn't come off as stupid or dumbed down.
All in all, this is a pretty successful film. It's creepy, fairly intense and disturbing at times, and genuinely quite compelling. Give it a watch.
P.S. There's also a pretty sick sense of humor in places too, which I thought was kinda funny.
Crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) has a career that is now nosediving. He's in desperate need of another bestseller and to achieve this, he moves into a house to research a book where the hanging of an entire family took place. His wife (Juliet Rylance) and children are oblivious that they‚??re living in a crime scene but once Ellison discovers a box of home movies in the attic, the dark events begin to unravel and affect them all.
Derrickson's handling of the material here is quite impressive. He keeps the plot moving briskly and has a good grasp on mood and atmosphere. He's also aided by a typically reliable lead performance from Ethan Hawke. From the offset, it appears that all the ingredients are in place and for the most part they are. Very few modern horrors have achieved such a commanding hold over a contemporary audience. However, once the supernatural element to the story is introduced it begins to lose it's way and credulity becomes stretched. If it had relied more on it's highly effective, investigatory nature, it would have made a very good serial-killer thriller: the Super-8, home video scenes alone, are truly alarming and disturbing and instil a real feeling of dread. That being said ,this a horror at the end of the day and most fans of the genre will, no doubt, be satisfied. Personally, I wish it had stuck with the intriguing first half. During this time, it was a far more effective take on Joel Schumacher's earlier 1999 film "8mm" that also dealt with a similar theme of investigating 'snuff-movies'. Like most horrors, it has the protagonist making foolish decisions in the dark and it throws the obligatory jumpy moment at you - which doesn't always work - but for me, the real horror came from the genuinely unsettling atmosphere.
On the whole, this was a very effective and chilling film but it was the unravelling of the mystery in the final third that didn't quite match what had went before. A fine effort but it could have been tighter.