SINISTER was easily one of the scarier and more effective horror films of 2012. It didn't go over the top in trying to subvert or over-complicate the genre, instead opting to deliver straight scares and chills.
It seems sadly strange in this day and age, but focusing on odd things like atmosphere and character really do make a difference. (Who knew?) SINISTER moves slowly enough to let you take in everything, let the creepiness build and let you get to know the humans about to be terrified. The family is relatable and the acting is solid across the board, from Ethan Hawke and his wife to both of their young children. The most amazing thing, though, is that the characters act and react like normal people. Sure, Hawke's professional and monetary situation leads to some understandable desperation, but when stuff really goes down and the family is threatened by the sinisterness of the title they actually leave the house! Obviously, that's not the end of the movie, so don't start yelling "Spoiler!" but it's nice to encounter characters who aren't completely stupid.
However, when it comes down to it, SINISTER is scary—even very scary in some parts. (Doubly amazing when you consider there's little to no real gore in the film.) Writer C. Robert Cargill, also known as Massawyrm over at Ain't It Cool News, concocts some pretty creepy set ups and director Scott Derrickson executes them nicely. The Super 8 films that Hawke watches act as their own mini-horror movies and each gets increasingly unsettling, almost like you're watching snuff films. (The lawnmower one in particular might count as the biggest scare I experienced with an audience at theaters last year.) The hazy image of pagan boogeyman Bughuul is also exceedingly disconcerting and used to great effect throughout the movie.
The film gets a bit predictable as it moves in to the home stretch, but that doesn't stop it from working well overall. Though—SPOILER WARNING—it is a very effective image, I hate that the film's ending is essentially on the poster.
Commentary with director Scott Derrickson: Derrickson is aware that there are two commentaries available on this disc, so he purposefully focuses this first track solely on his work as a director. He covers the usual suspects, from shooting on location to working with actors to the more technical aspects of filmmaking, but it's still a fairly interesting listen.
Commentary with writer/director Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill: This track is all about the story and script (for the most part), so if you really love the movie (or screenwriting), there's enough to set it apart from the first commentary to recommend.
True Crime Authors (9:15): A variety of real life writers and academics discuss the nature of this specific genre and what it takes to do it well.
Living in a House of Death (11:32): This might be the most interesting feature on the disc, centering on a real-life homes where terrible crimes occurred, their history and how hard it is to market them to new owners.
Deleted Scenes (4:55): Only a couple are included, both with optional Commentary by Derrickson. Neither were really missed in the final cut.
Digital and UltraViolet copies are also included.
SINISTER is a great example of the right way to make a horror film that's actually scary, without any fancy bells and whistles. Bring on SINISTER 2!
Extra Tidbit: Hawke's character's name, Ellison Oswalt, is a combination of author Harlan Ellison and comedian Patton Oswalt.