directed by Scott Derrickson
(Lionsgate, 2012)

It's always nice to be present at the birth of a new horror villain. Scott Derrickson, who wrote the script for Sinister after having a nightmare following a viewing of Hideo Nakata's cult hit The Ring, turns in a respectful pastiche that does a more than fair job of hitting the mark most of the time.

True crime novelist Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) has moved his family into a home with a dark and violent past, hoping to use the location as a catalyst to restart his once-hot, now stalled literary career with a bestseller about the grisly crime that occurred there years ago. If only he'd bothered to tell his lovely wife and vulnerable children about the unsolved murders and the box full of home movies that he found in the attic....

But then, it wouldn't be a horror movie, now would it?

The movies are the old Super-8 kind, on metal reels with a projector. In actuality, they are home movies that have recorded full-on nightmares. As it turns out, the movies were made by the killer of not just the family who once lived in Oswalt's home, but several other families as well. And those murders are nothing if not highly inventive, to put it mildly.

For the first hour, the movie is straightforward crime procedure, with the splashy horror stuff happening in the final half. Anyone who has seen The Ring knows that the images viewed on film will be integral to the unleashing of the evil entity that will eventually consume Oswalt's life.

The scares are completely effective in the way they deliver the pain, lining up each plot point with precision. The movie may be a bit too seamless but it wins in the "never let up" department, ratcheting up the suspense from low-level to nerve-shredding with the subtlety of a steamroller slowly but surely bearing down on you.

Hawke has most of the screen time and spends it wisely, using his character's fragile ego to keep the film grounded in reality. He's as convincing when questioning his sanity as he is when checking out that odd noise in the dark. He doesn't do a good job of connecting the dots between the crimes, though that may well be because of his borderline alcoholism and self-induced career stupor. The action moves along more on the strength of a memorable supporting character in the form of a local deputy whose intelligence, hidden beneath a goofy exterior, continually steals the show. But at least the plot does move along, and quite relentlessly, too.

Though not terribly original, and somewhat mechanical in the last half, Sinister is still a disturbing ride from start to finish and makes you want to, if not exactly bite your nails, at least grip the chair arms a bit more tightly. And "Mr. Boogie" (aka Bughuul the Childeater), the newest demon on the block, can rightfully take his place alongside the other movie villains.

review by
Mary Harvey

1 December 2012

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