Starring Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance. Rated 14A.
Director Scott Derrickson did not win over horror fans with his previous fright flick, 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which pretty much sucked the biggie. He does a lot better with Sinister, which overcomes an iffy script to reel you in with one seriously creepy vibe.
Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a struggling true-crime writer who moves with his wife, Tracy, and kids Trevor and Ashley to a house that he got for a song because most of the family that lived there—the subject of his next book—was murdered in the backyard.
Upon arrival, Ellison is paid a visit by the small town’s up-front sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson), who, as expected, doesn’t much cotton to fancy-ass writers meddling in police affairs. Their confrontation sounds contrived, though, as do Ellison’s dealings with a starstruck deputy intent on helping him solve the murders.
To get things rolling, a box of 8mm films (and a projector) is found, conveniently, in the attic. Before long, Ellison has secluded himself in his study, Shining-style, guzzling whisky and watching home-movie footage of bound and gagged families being systematically offed by unseen killers.
These late-night viewings are disturbing to the max, and they become more engrossing when Oswalt hits freeze-frame to discover demonic symbols and a ghostly image within each murder scene. Hey, how did King Diamond get in this flick!
As if things weren’t already hairy enough at the Oswalt camp, teenaged Trevor suffers from severe night terrors, so we get to see him popping out of cardboard boxes, screaming his head off. And little Ashley is a moody-artist type who starts communicating with a ghost kid and painting pictures of dead bodies on her classroom wall.
We’ve seen it all before, of course. Although Sinister deserves kudos for its brooding sense of dread, it brings nothing all that special to the supernatural found-footage realm. The Paranormal Activity franchise already has that market cornered, and next week—with the release of PA4—it’ll try to keep it that way.
Watch the trailer for Sinister.