Klavan On The Culture

"Sinister" Creepy

Scott Derrickson is the talented writer/director who brought us The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a film that was marketed as horror but was in fact an intelligent and riveting courtroom drama about faith — well worth watching. He then went on to direct but not write the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was crap. I don’t know Derrickson’s personal story but let’s chalk that up to the fact that a man’s gotta make a living, and it probably looked like it was gonna be a big deal.

Anyway, last year Derrickson returned to directing and co-writing with a horror film called Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke. It just hit Netflix last week. It’s about a morally dodgy true crime writer who moves his family into a murder house to write the book about the killing that took place there.

My review: it’s very creepy. Very, very creepy. Well-written, well-acted — and did I mention creepy? It’s creepy. The first hour crawls up your spine like an ice spider. It had me pinned to the back of the couch. The subject is horrific — a series of awful killings caught on film — but Derrickson eschews the gore and just gets you with the idea of what’s going on. And the idea? It’s creepy.

The second hour — or fifty minutes, really — is not as good. Not bad, but the scares get a little lazy and by-the-book. You know the drill. Walking down the dark hallway. Boo. The writing and characterization remain good throughout, however, and these get you through to the predictable but nonetheless unsettling end. There’s a nicely observed marital argument and an absolutely wonderful scene between Hawke and TV actor James Ransone, who is just terrific as a dumb but maybe not so dumb deputy. There’s some good spooky kid stuff. And Fred Thompson’s in it! Gotta love you some Fred Thompson.

The reviews for this flick were, I think, unfair. Even the good ones sort of dismissed it as a pot-boiler. But it’s much better than that. If Derrickson had cut twenty minutes of creeping down dark corridors and stuff jumping out at you and stuck with the character scares, this would have been a great scary film. But as it is, it’s still good. And creepy.