Director/co-writer Scott Derrickson (‘The Exorcism Of Emily Rose’) creates a slow burn of macabre-oriented mayhem in the creepy caper ‘Sinister’. Derrickson and fellow scriber C. Robert Cargill churn out a traditional yet hackneyed horror showcase that marches to the beat of the same dreary drum. ‘Sinister’ features the conventional atmospherics of titillating tactics concerning a mysterious house, snuff movies, demonic activity and a terrorised family unit in jeopardy. Also for good measure, Derrickson’s nerve-twitching narrative employs the current ‘found footage” trickery as well.
The boo-hoo antics in ‘Sinister’ register with all the shock value of a pricked finger. The occasional chill factor exists but for the most part this hair-raising sideshow is something that will be familiar in suspenseful obviousness. Much like this year’s flaccid frightfests in ‘The Apparition’ and ‘The Possession’, the drab ‘Sinister’ will merely evoke the reminiscences of mechanical morbid movies that reach furiously for understated goose-bump gore in unoriginal blurbs of intrigue.
Family man Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a true-crime journalist mostly noted for his bestseller ‘Kentucy Blood’ that made a literary impact a decade ago. Ellison is determined to secure another printed hit as he prepares to research the horrific incident involving the unsolved mystery behind a ritualistic hanging of a family from their backyard tree. Surely, this sensationalistic case should generate some noteworthy spark to bring attention to his intended write-up.
Daringly, Ellison decides to re-locate his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and children Ashley and Trevor (Clare Foley and Michael Hall D’Addario) into the Pennsylvania house where the nostalgic family massacre took place in order to “feel” the spooky experience up close and personal. Unfortunately for Tracy and the kids, they do not realise that their new homestead is ominously attached to the legendary bloodshed that took place ages ago. Keeping these intimidating details to himself, Ellison begins to concentrate on his new digs in order to ‘inspire’ him for his upcoming precious tome.
While exploring the attic one day, Ellison conveniently comes across a box of Super 8 home movies along with a projector. Naturally, the curious writer views the grisly movies that capture an assortment of killings (along with his targeted hanged family resource material). In his caustic viewings of these snuff flicks, Ellison discovers a common drastic entity at each of the crime-ridden venues. Unwillingly, Ellison does not realise that these same sinister forces will be unleashed upon his own family. Thus, the Oswalts and the normalcy of their day-to-day lives are going to change for the worse — an understatement in an underwhelming and stillborn thriller.
There is a half-way compelling element to ‘Sinister’ that solely is laid on the shoulders of Hawke’s protagonist Ellison Oswalt as the determined writer wanting to reclaim his professional prowess via residing in the hellhole household that serves as his creative blueprint. The fact that one can question Ellison’s selfishness (endangering his loved ones for the sake of his working art) verses his dedication to investigating the authenticity of his novel’s threatening sources is unintentionally amusing as we associate horror movie victims with not being the brightest bulbs in the genre.
Unfortunately, the only decent outlandishness in ‘Sinister’ is Ellison’s curiosities about the recurring stringy-haired, white-faced phantom figure that pops up amid the supernatural occurrences in the movie frame’s background. This prompts Ellison to contact the town’s clueless sheriff James Ransone, that leads to the attention of a demonology specialist (Vincent D’Onofrio) flapping about ancient Babylonian curses that damage impressionable souls.
At best, ‘Sinister’ is a lukewarm twitchy tale that routinely teases the audience with the obligatory guessing game of whether or not the conjured up evil-minded spookiness is imagined in Ellison’s weary mind or actually part of the house’s demented past. Psychologically, ‘Sinister’ feels synthetically conceived as the scary aspect of the movie hovers about in ludicrous fashion. Hawke’s Ellison Oswalt may be the anchor of the so-called terrorising angst but the supporting players that are his family have nothing unique to do beyond posing as the casual fodder ready for traumatisation.
Cheapened scare sequences, an ambiguous monstrous myth, transparent characterisations and a mixed bag of a supernatural storyline barely put any ‘Sinister’ thoughts in our heads worth contemplating.
Sinister (Lionsgate Films)
1 hr. 50 mins.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Janet Zappala, Victoria Leigh, Vincent D’Onofrio, Cameron Ocasio, Tavis Smiley
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
MPAA Rating: R
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)