Cinema Spotlight on Scott Derrickson Part III: ‘Sinister’


Manuel Ramirez, Staff Reporter

After the disappointment of The Day the Earth stood Still (not to mention a Razzie Nomination for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel) Derrickson returned to what he did best, scaring the living daylights out of everyone with his third outing that lives up to its title, Sinister.

Premiering on October 12, 2012 in what is perhaps his most popular film with audiences; the movie follows Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime writer attempting to make a comeback. Hoping to cover more ground on the murders that he’s writing about, he moves with his family into a house were one took place; a detail he decides not to mention to neither his wife or kids.

One night he discovers a box containing a Super 8 projector with a couple of film reels; to his shock, each footage shows various families being hanged, drowned, burned or murdered in some other graphic manner. Seeing an opportunity for a possible best seller, Oswalt tries to fathom this gruesome mystery but as the closer her gets, things begin to get a little eerie. Who made these films? Who could have committed such monstrous acts? Could it be a serial killer or something much more sinister?

From the opening scene I could tell this wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill scary movie. Derrickson delivers a truly terrifying ghost story that brought to mind R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series but with an adult edge. There are scares, moments of tension and elements of mystery as we are immersed with Oswalt in trying to put the pieces of this puzzle together. Derrickson’s recurring theme of belief also makes an appearance when the case moves into possible paranormal territory.

A rarity that this movie brought is that the characters are believable and to an extent likable; however, that’s not to say that they are all around nice. The main lead Oswalt has his flaws and we especially see it in his desire to have fame once again, that he makes many rash decisions during the investigation. Still, you feel for the guy compared to characters in other horror movies that are mostly made of idiotic and obnoxious morons.

The rest of the cast is terrific from a comic relief deputy who assists in the case (James Ransone from HBO’s The Wire), a gruff sheriff who doesn’t approve Oswalt’s new residency (Law & Order’s Fred Dalton Thompson) and a professor with an expertise in the occult and supernatural (Vincent D’Onofrio from Netflix’s Daredevil and Men in Black).

Also, I couldn’t help but notice that Oswalt seemed like a sort of replica of Derrickson himself. Both have an uncanny resemblance from the hair, goatee and black-rimmed glasses, and delve into nightmarish subject matter. Oswalt looks at some horrific footage and other scary material when writing his novels, while Derrickson watched a bunch of footage of demon possessions and exorcisms while he was working on Emily Rose. Oswalt wrote a best seller with his first book only to have his later material flop, whereas Derrickson also made a hit with his first film but failed to deliver with his second. Both are writers but where Oswalt writes books on real crimes, Derricskon writes screenplays to horror movies.

The director has even stated that the character embodied a bit of himself and certain aspects of what he feared of becoming, like having long night talks with his wife, to putting his work ahead of his family. Kids at sleepovers and campfires have utilized such a method when they put themselves and other people they know into their spooky stories; I have to give the filmmaker credit for using cinema as a means to tell such a frightening tale.

For those who enjoy watching scary movies, Sinister will not disappoint and even if such movies aren’t your thing this is one of the few modern horror films that delivers good scares, plot, and characters, that I highly recommend it. It may not be for the faint-hearted but it’s one of the better modern horror movies out there.

Having regained his movie-making skills, Derrickson has one more film before heading into Superhero territory, with another Horror film that deals with a subject that he’s very familiar with…exorcisms. All in the next week’s issue of the East Texan.