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2012 | 110 min | R | 2.39:1



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Movie appeal

Psychological thriller9%


Theatrical release date

 12 October, 2012
 05 October, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from Sinister Blu-ray

Sinister Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 11, 2012

“Sinister” joins a growing trend of horror movies offering characters who don’t react appropriately to unequivocal proof of their own future doom, a bewildering screenwriting concept recently explored in the last three “Paranormal Activity” pictures. Genre admirers generally don’t seem to mind this gap in storytelling logic, but for those who like a little more thought put into their fright films, “Sinister” is a patience-tester with some genuinely interesting, atmospheric elements to cushion its fall. However, passage to the solid stuff is blocked by brazenly cheap scares, a hazy monster mythos, unreasonably idiotic characters, and excessive length, making “Sinister” an absolute chore to enjoy in full.

Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a struggling true crime author on the hunt for a hit book after a decade of humiliating misses. Moving his clan, including wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), son Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario), and daughter Ashley (Clare Foley), to rural Pennsylvania to research a brutal family murder, Ellison hopes to connect to the crime by living on the site where it occurred, setting up an office dedicated to the particulars of the nasty event. The local cops don’t want him around, and Tracy is concerned about Ellison’s manic need to write a best seller, yet the author continues with his research, fueled by alcohol and obsession. Discovering a box of 8mm home movies in the attic, Ellison screens the footage, discovering evidence of multiple families being murdered by a ghoul over the last 40 years. Unable to shake what he’s witnessed, Ellison delves further into the footage, studying the frames to a point where nightmare and reality have blended into one, learning more about the devious plans of Baghuul, a child-eating demon that haunts the thin strips of celluloid.

It might come across as nitpicking to discuss the nature of Ellison’s inexplicable denial, but it’s a point of “Sinister” that doesn’t rest comfortably. Here’s a man who’s witnessed footage of four families being murdered, and later in the film, he’s captured proof of a ghostly influence inside his own house. The spirits actually touch Ellison during a mad scene of attic panic, yet the man doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t worry, he doesn’t even question. Screenwriters C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson (who also directs) make a minor play for self-preservation, motivating Ellison’s silence as protection of his literary investment, keeping outside police interest away to allow breathing room for his upcoming masterpiece. Of course, this scene comes before the ghost contact. After that, there’s no good reason for the character to be anywhere near the house or the great state of Pennsylvania. Heck, I’d demand a ride with Virgin Galactic if I had absolute proof that malevolent poltergeists were shacking up in my attic. But that’s me. Ellison treats the Baghuul ordeal as if it were garbage day, only dealing with the burden when he absolutely has to. To have the character actually confront his legitimately documented haunting would complicate Cargill and Derrickson’s master plan of suspense. Unfortunately, to appreciate “Sinister” requires ignoring much of what actually takes place during “Sinister.”

Baghuul is a hulking figure with a vaguely clownish face who creeps around the backgrounds of the home movies. We learn through Ellison’s iChat conversations with an occult professor (Vincent D’Onofrio) that Baghuul is ancient and everlasting, though his method of transport is a strange one, taking refuge in a heavily fetishized dead format that will come to baffle future generations. Once viewed, Baghuul is unleashed, though his reign of terror resembles one of those shock videos on YouTube intended to scare viewers with sudden shrieks and the pop of a demonic face. The scares of “Sinister” largely follow this formula, cheaply lunging at the viewer like a haunted house attraction, making the picture predictable with its jolts. It’s an unimaginative route to take, yet Derrickson commits in full, spacing out the spasms with extended scenes of Ellison roaming around his house chasing phantom noises, playing into genre requirements by dragging out the tense silences as far as they can possibly go. Perhaps too far at times. “Sinister” needed more time understanding Baghuul and rampage, and less time studying Ellison’s repetitive laps around his property.

“Sinister” is aided considerably by Ethan Hawke’s enthusiastic performance, which does wonders to sell the madness swirling inside the character the screenplay doesn’t bother to articulate. He’s terrific expressing anxiety, and the material offers plenty of pulse-pounding moments of discovery, along with a rich feel for Ellison’s narcissism and professional despair, feelings that could effectively carry their own movie away from the Baghuul influence. Scoring by Christopher Young is equally impressive, providing a thrilling rumble that’s often more effective at generating unease than any of the visual elements.

“Sinister” will be celebrated by those who share a deeply forgiving appreciation for the genre, and there are a few moments that are genuinely inspired. Overall, there’s not much here that overwhelms and torments, with so much time devoted to mastering cheap surprises that a larger feel for discomfort is missing.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D'Addario
Director: Scott Derrickson

» See full cast & crew

Sinister, Forum Discussions

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