Sunday, October 6, 2013


Directed by Scott Derrickson.
2012. Rated R, 110 minutes.
Juliet Rylance
James Ransone
Michael Hall D’Addario
Clare Foley
Fred Thompson
Nick King

Ellison (Hawke) is a true crime writer looking for his next best-seller. About a decade earlier, his magnum opus, “Kentucky Blood,” was not only a best-seller, it captured the national spotlight, earning him fame, wealth, and notoriety. He likes to work close to the scene of the crime he’s researching. This time, unbeknownst to his family, he moves them in to the actual house where it all went down. It being the hanging of four people out of the family of five that lived there. The fifth, the family’s youngest daughter, is still missing and the perpetrator has not been caught. Shortly after settling in, he finds a box of films and a projector in the attic which actually shows the crime, along with several other killings. Pretty soon things are going bump in the night and Ellison is freaking out.

As per the standard in such flicks, one adult is losing his mind, the other is mostly oblivious for much of the movie, and the kids are affected in various ways. In this case, the oblivious adult is wife/mom Tracy (Rylance). Son Trevor (D’Addario) experiences an increase in his “night terrors,” which means he wakes up in odd places screaming his head off and not knowing how he got there. The daughter eventually sees stuff. Most of our time is spent with dad as watches the films, hears something, goes to investigate, and tries to get help from either the local deputy (Ransone), or Professor Jonas (D’Onofrio) from the local university. Rinse. Repeat.

Despite its repetitive nature, Sinister manages to draw us in enough to keep us interested. Ethan Hawke’s performance helps quite a bit. His motivations are laid bare as is his increasing fragility. The man is clearly falling apart. However, he can’t help but dive deeper and deeper into this case. The case also has a bit of power over us, as well. The revelations come slow, but quick enough not to lose us. That said, reasoning is left unexplained and even undiscovered. This might be a potential turn-off for some, but I think it works.

The acts depicted in the films our hero watches are heinous, presented sans the over-stylization of most horror flicks. This gives them a real feel that holds up even though, or perhaps because, we’re visually spared the gory details. Again, Hawke does the work for us. Last second cutaways to his reactions work perfectly. In these moments, he is our conduit. He behaves as one might were we viewing something so despicable happening to real people and not actors. It’s an odd tactic for an R-rated horror movie, one that I usually rip movies for employing. Here, it works pretty well, maintaining the illusion that our protagonist is working on a “true” crime.

Where the movie ultimately falls short is in the most basic goal of horror. It’s entirely too hard to gauge how much danger this family is in. Cinematic logic dictates that they’re likely the next target of whoever the bad guy is. However, when things start to escalate, it doesn't always seem that way. We eventually discover why that is. Sorta. By that point, well, the movie is just about over. Until then, we can’t quite get fully vested in the welfare of these people.

All in all, Sinister is an interesting watch that does some interesting things. Though it is occasionally unsettling, it never gets all the way around to submerging deep enough in our heads to make it remarkable. We like the tone, the films within the film, Hawke’s reaction to them, and even the ending. However, it is also tedious and, for some, the unanswered questions will be unsatisfactory. And yes, we’re threatened with the possibility of a sequel. This is a decent watch, but I can live without another one.

MY SCORE: 6/10

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