For better or worse the producers of Insidious are back with another supernatural offering that pitches Ethan Hawke against snakes, malevolent forces and his own sanity. Very much a film of two halves, Insidious started strongly with a steady stream of tension that tingled the spine. The dreamlike finale was inexplicably daft and the loss of genuine chills was unforgivable, but it tasted just fine providing you like your suspense washed down with a side order of silly.
Sinister sets out to rectify that problem and largely succeeds, replacing camp pantomime villainy with genuine creepiness while largely ignoring the much favoured jump tactics of recent Hollywood fare. Ethan Hawke brings meaty realism to the role of Ellison, a true-crime writer who finds a cache of 8mm snuff films which suggest the murder he’s researching is the work of a serial killer whose career dates back to the 1960s. He moves his unsuspecting family into the home of the murdered family and – unsurprisingly – it’s not long before the screaming starts.
The home movies at the heart of the story are genuinely unnerving, as is the shadowy figure looking on from the darkness, and Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) doesn’t cheapen the mood by overindulging in booming bass lines and frantic jump cuts. There are a few good scares along the way and the mystery elements keep the film from straying off course. Strong performances from the cast don’t hurt, of course, and a welcome dose of dark humour keeps the film from becoming too bleak.
Absurdity does perhaps rear its ugly head in the final act but that very much depends upon your take on the supernatural, and whether or not you’re willing to go along for the ride. Sinister is too polished and too familiar to make a lasting impression but there’s enough here to provide a nerve tingling – if not entirely memorable – night in. AW