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'Sinister' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

By

'Sinister' movie poster.
© Summit
Producer Jason Blum seems to be almost singlehandedly leading the charge to steer horror movies away from the ultra-gory, mean-spirited nature of so-called "torture porn" and toward more traditional haunted house fare that values scares over shock. His latest such effort, Sinister, feels like the close of a supernatural, spooky house trilogy that began with Paranormal Activity and continued with Insidious (granted, there are a few PA sequels wedged in there as well). With those two hits as a lead-in, the bar is set pretty high, but while Sinister doesn't quite match their level of innovation and pure fright, it's a welcome addition to the Blum legacy.

The Plot

True-crime novelist Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) has a habit of moving his family to the towns where the crimes he writes about took place, but for his latest book, he's taking it a step further and moving into the actual murder house. Technically, the crime didn't happen within the home; four members of the previous household were hanged from the tree in the backyard. Low on money and desperate for another bestseller, Ellison buys the house because it was cheap and because he hopes the case -- in which the youngest daughter of the murdered family went missing -- could provide him with the follow-up hit he needs.

Soon after moving in with his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), son Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) and daughter Ashley (Clare Foley), Ellison finds a strangely conspicuous box of Super 8 film reels in the attic. To his shock, they reveal details not only of the massacre, but also of other atrocities that expand the scope of the case beyond what he ever imagined -- namely, into the supernatural. Before he knows it, things begin going bump in the night, shadows begin to lurk, and as Ellison digs deeper into the mystery, the more he becomes to wonder if he's putting his own family at risk of being the next victim of an ancient evil.

The End Result

Ethan Hawke in 'Sinister'.

Ethan Hawke in 'Sinister'.

© Summit
With the genre track records of producer Jason Blum, writer-director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and star Ethan Hawke (Daybreakers), Sinister is about as safe a bet as you can get for a horror movie these days. Every aspect of the production screams quality, from the dramatic heft of Hawke's performance to the smartly penned dialogue that reflects the emotional strain of domestic life to the hauntingly realistic, grainy Super 8 imagery that propel the film forward.

The setup of Ellison discovering this trove of heinous video reels allows viewers to experience the voyeuristic sense of discovery that has made "found footage" films like Paranormal Activity such the rage in horror nowadays. We're along for the ride with him as tertiary witnesses watching him as he tries to make sense of what he's seeing, maneuvering his way through a fascinating mystery that grows increasingly twisted. It's dark stuff that gives rise to a growing pit in your stomach as you're enveloped by a sense of impending doom, but thankfully Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill saw fit to offset the grimness with moments of welcome levity, most notably at the hands of a bumbling Sheriff's deputy played by James Ransone.

As strong as Sinister is, however, it's hard not to compare it to Blum's similar but superior suburban hauntings Paranormal Activity and Insidious, thus highlighting its shortcomings. The script, for all its wonderful dialogue and uber-creepy setup, ends on a sputtering note, with a predictable twist and a prolonged climax that will have you groaning, "OK, we get it already." The fright potential in Sinister is immense, but the camerawork doesn't take full advantage of it, and when the story reveals the spectral entities midway through, it deadens a good percentage of the mystery and thus the scares as well.

The Skinny

  • Acting: B+ (Hawke is excellent; the supporting cast is solid.)
  • Direction: B- (Generates some effective scares, but doesn't take full advantage of its potential.)
  • Script: B- (A great setup with strong, realistic dialogue, but the payoff is is prolonged and predictable.)
  • Gore/Effects: C+ (Modest gore; so-so makeup effects.)
  • Overall: B- (A genuinely creepy and involving mystery that falters at the end.)

Sinister is directed by Scott Derrickson and is rated R by the MPAA for disturbing violent images and some terror. Release date: October 12, 2012.

Disclosure: The distributor provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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