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MOVIE REVIEW: Sinister

A creepy flick, headed by a solid cast performance, Sinister has decent storytelling and visuals. The film is sinister, but not as much as one would hope.

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★ ★ ★ out of 5 buckets | DVD

Rated: R Some terror and disturbing violent images

Release Date: October 12, 2012

Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D'Addario, Clare Foley

SYNOPSIS: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

REVIEW: Writer and director Scott Derrickson has dabbled in the horror genre since the start of the millennium. Starting with the direct-to-video Hellraiser: Inferno and graduating to a theatrical suspense thriller release with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Derrickson returns with a new co-writer C. Robert Cargill for another found-footage film that combines the mystery of a series of grisly murders with the unbelievable truth of the supernatural.

True-crime novelist Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke, Daybreakers) moves his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance, Animal) and their two children Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario, People Like Us) and Ashley (Clare Foley, Win Win) into the crime scene home where four members of a family were brutally hung on a tree in the backyard and the daughter was abducted. Shunned by the local Sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson, Secretariat) and his Deputy (James Ransone, The Next Three Days), Ellison settles in to his office to try to write another true-crime novel that mirrors the success of one of his earlier successful works, 'Kentucky Blood'. When Ellison takes boxes up to the attic, he finds a box with a film projector and several cans of 8mm films with titles like 'BBQ' and 'Hanging Around'. Curious, he runs through one of the films to discover that the film has both a family enjoying a day filled with sun and a game of football catch, and the capture of the actual hanging of the Stevens family a few dozen feet in the direction of the backyard and the massive tree with a fallen branch still semi-attached to the tree. As Ellison watches more of the film, he realizes that the crime he was planning to write his next book about has expanded into a series of grisly family murders that all include the abduction of one of the children, and possibly the inclusion of a serial killer, the occult, or the supernatural.

On the poster, Sinister is billed as being from the producer of Paranormal Activity andInsidious. And echoes of both films are evident in SinisterInsidious offered odd angles and off-centered shots to add haunting body into a otherwise normal everyday house. Paranormal Activity ramped up the use of found-footage to creepy effect. Sinistercombines ideas from both concepts to take a father and husband's journey to regain control for the health and well-being of his family down a dark road that may not have a way back.

As Ellison watches more 8mm frames to support his new-found theory that several families were killed by the same mad man, he discovers a distinctive mark at each of the crime scenes that leads him to a specialized occult crime professor that relays to Ellison that the painted mark at the crime scenes refer to a Babylonian deity named Bughuul. What starts off as a creepy voyeuristic study into a man's obsessive pursuit for former glory and worth becomes a typical supernatural story with a boogeyman at its center. The house that the Oswalt family moves into carries with it an innate sense of dread based on the happenings of its former residents. The finding of the 8mm films and projector only adds to the suspense and gruesome anticipation. The boogeyman named Bughuul a.k.a. Mr. Boogie is immortalized in the film and the digital copies on Ellison's computers, but the suspense wans and wavers the more screen time the deity is given. In addition to the obscure deity known for being a 'child eater', other ghosts haunt Ellison.

Ethan Hawke does a superb job as Ellison Oswald. He is a man desperate to regain control of his life after two lesser successes follow his #1 New York Best Seller 'Kentucky Blood'. When the noises of the crime-scene house and the attic film findings make him question his fortitude for his new project, Hawke's Ellison obsession to provide security for his family and future presses him forward regardless of any possible threats. As he becomes more sure that his findings will return him to his former writing glory, Hawke's Ellison turns quickly to whiskey and darkened locked rooms. Reminiscent of The Shining'sJack Torrence, the tortured writer could descend into possible madness.

From the opening found-footage scene that centers around a family hanging around in their backyard, the anticipation for the gruesome brutality was excitingly high. The first half of the film is a creepy experience of a man discovering gruesome evidence of something sinister, with the house settling with strange noises and the depictions on 8mm sometimes difficult to watch. But once Bughuul is given a name, the film steers into the typical supernatural fare. There are some great use of music, snap edits of missing children and of Bughuul, and the lead up to the end of the film for the Oswalt family is a minor master stroke, but the overuse of the missing children and of the Babylonian deity distracts from the potential of Sinister.

For the uninitiated, sinister may illicit gasps, averted gazes. Or possibly a few screams. For those steeped deep in the genre there still even a few gruesome depictions that will make you tip your hat to the writer/director Derrickson newest attempt of suspense horror. Unfortunately, most will have already solved the mystery of the murders and the missing children way before the big reveals.

A creepy flick, headed by a solid cast performance, Sinister has decent storytelling and visuals, but for every gruesome found footage sequence there is also a bit of low budget camp that distracts from the caliber of the rest of the film. The film is sinister, but not as much as one would hope.

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