I usually don’t bother discussing Hollywood “horror” movies since they are typically cookie cutter recipes that follow a cliché template geared to satiate casual viewers who want to watch something “scary.”
But Sinister is unbearable to watch, which makes it easy to talk about. On the “bright side,” it has some creepy and eerie moments and a simplistic plot that has a lot of potential, even if it is just a cross between Saw, The Amityville Horror, and The Ring. Believe me. I’m a huge fan of the derivative because I love seeing stuff that reminds me of other stuff I like. It’s the dark side of Sinister that ruins it.
The least of the problems is that the Ethan Hawke character is terrified that something spooky is happening in his house and yet never turns on a single light when he goes to investigate mysterious sounds. But I guess that’s because he knows the damn things are only going to shine a TINY little spot of illumination right in front of his feet. See, Sinister pretends that any light that does exist in the world just doesn’t work.
I am absolutely a proponent of natural light in horror movies. It irks me when some chick is running through the woods at night being chased by Jason and yet there’s this wonderful floodlight guiding her way. But if you’re going to take advantage of the terror that darkness can create, you have to first remind us of the comfort that light can bring.
In an effort to make Sinister atmospheric, even a central light fixture in a room will cast a glow only directly below it, leaving the surrounding area and every corner of the room in COMPLETE darkness. We’re talking pitch black without even a hint that there’s a light on in the middle of the room. In my home, I can turn on a lamp with a dark shade and a 25-watt bulb in one corner of a room and still be able to see every detail of the far corner of the room. Not in Sinister.
The family sits at the dinner table and there’s a spotlight on the food and that’s it. A hall fixture above doesn’t even succeed in lighting the floor just below it and barely lights the ceiling. There’s a computer on and all you see in the entire room is Ethan’s face—no shadows, no illuminated tint on anything else in front of the computer. Bright daylight beams through a huge picture window right onto the kitchen table, leaving the rest of the room shrouded in darkness. A fire in the backyard at night doesn’t even flicker on the walls of the house, just on Ethan’s face as he stands before the flames.
I get that what’s scarier is sometimes what you can’t see, but if you can’t see ANYTHING in the first place, then you can’t even imagine what you’re supposed to be scared of not seeing.