I haven’t been sleeping well these last few nights. It could be the pregnancy hormones and the constant waves of nausea or the increased need to take nocturnal potty breaks thanks to the baby pushing on my bladder but I would just be lying to myself if I said that was the case. I know what it really is. It’s Mr. Boogie.
With the exception of 2002’s The Ring, which left me terrified and pleading with my younger brother to sleep on my bedroom floor for a week (a week!), I am usually relatively undisturbed watching horror films as long as I am not doing so alone. In the decade since I watched The Ring, I’ve finally come across a movie that’s scared me just as much, if not more. Even its title sends chills down my spine now: Sinister.
Sinister is where I first was introduced to Mr. Boogie and a month later he still hasn’t left my sleepless late night thoughts. Starring my childhood crush Ethan Hawke (Is it wrong that I developed this crush while watching him turn to cannibalism by eating his rugby teammates in 1993’s Alive?), Sinister is about a true-crime writer (Hawke) who moves his family into a house where the previous inhabitants were murdered. Desperate to once again produce a best-seller, Ellison plans to write about the killings and the mysterious disappearance of the murdered family’s daughter that took place in the backyard of his new home. Of course, Ellison neglects to let his wife and two young children in on the home’s dark past.
Ellison soon discovers a box in his attic that contains 8mm film reels which upon first glance appear to be run-of-the-mill home videos. Then, the contents of the movies quickly take a more sinister turn. Grainy footage shows an unknown family enjoying a day swimming in their backyard pool. Before the reel reaches its end the family has been drowned. Another family is shown being burned alive in the trunk of their car. And so on. A shadowy figure seems to lurk in the background of each scene of the crime, looking on as the families meet their gruesome deaths. Ellison beings to wonder if a serial killer is responsible but worries that his possible best-seller would be compromised if he were to involve the police.
As a viewer, I am usually more scared watching things that actually seem feasible, like the couple being terrorized by masked strangers in 2008’s The Strangers, than with ghostly and spiritual happenings such as those seen in the Paranormal Activity franchise. Part of what makes Sinister so compelling is that we – and our main character – are left in limbo for much of the movie not knowing in which direction we are headed. Is there a serial killer at large whose work spans decades as the home videos suggest? Is something supernatural happening? Or is Ellison just hitting the bottle a little too hard?
Once I finally knew where we were headed I felt a little let down and wished that the film had gone down a different horror genre path. Luckily, the suspense in not knowing for so long was tantalizing enough to override my misgivings about the ending.
As much as I enjoyed Sinister, I was left with the lingering feeling that it could have been so much more. Creeped out to the point where I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks and dreaded making a midnight run to the bathroom? Yes. Fulfilled? No. Over my 90s crush on Ethan Hawke? Yes. Worth a viewing if you’re looking for a good scare with an intriguing plot? Definitely.