With so much generic horror getting released over the years (this year's The Possession is a prime example), it's easy to think the horror genre is as dead as some of the characters in it. Earlier this year, the expertly-written The Cabin in the Woods demonstrated that it seems there's nothing original left in horror. Even if you put originality to one side, so many horror films have just gone for all out excess, specifically in one of two camps: the 'gorefest' (e.g. Hostel, or the ridiculous The Human Centipede) or the 'jumpfest' (e.g. Paranormal Activity 1, 2, 3, and there's a new one coming out soon for some reason). These kinds of film fail to miss the very point of horror: to scare the absolute shit out of people.
2012 has restored my faith in the horror genre, however - firstly with the aforementioned The Cabin in the Woods, which is so beautifully meta that one questions whether it's really horror at all, and now Sinister. This is a film which gets the balance spot on - there is violence, and there are jumps, but not to the point where the film lacks any real substance.
The plot won't be winning any real awards - a true crime writer is investigating his latest mystery concerning missing children, and uncovers a paranormal legend involving a Pagan deity, and fears for his family and himself, blah blah blah - but this film does what horror is supposed to do, and most importantly, it does it well. The underlying mood and suspense of Sinister are definitely its strong points, and the general creepiness of the found footage sections is integrated brilliantly, with each Super-8 reel accompanied by its own musical track which blends a fairly standard horror score with some great world elements (using a didgeridoo to help to scare an audience senseless is something very few people will have considered). You will leave the cinema with your heart still thumping.
The real substance of the film comes from the surprisingly deep and emotional confrontations between the protagonist (Ethan Hawke) and his wife (Juliet Rylance), which gives everything a genuine realism that generic horror tends to lack. The acting ticks all the boxes and, of course, we get the stereotypical comic relief (from a seemingly incompetent police officer, in this case) and the creepy kids, whose acting is actually better than the annoying brats that tend to be drawn to acting in horror films (need I mention Paranormal Activity again?).
Overall, Sinister is terrifying. It's not particularly original - something that's almost impossible to achieve in horror - but this doesn't detract too much, especially for any seasoned horror junkies. It leaves generic 'jumpfests' in the dust by creating genuine underlying terror throughout. The emotional depth we get is a nice bonus, and legitimises the film outside of the horror genre, too.
Ignoring The Cabin... this is going to be 2012's best horror.
- Pete James Iwanciw