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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sinister Review. Freakishly-Intense Film

Sinister Review 
By: MattInRC 

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Sinister might be a little weird and filled with too many horror cliches, but it never gives you a minute to breathe.11 True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke, Gattaca) hasn't experienced a real hit since his Blood Kentucky novel 10 years before. He's gotten quite a reputation from it, but it's also left him with big shoes to fill. Having struggled ever since and doomed to proof-read textbooks to pay the bills, Ellison needs a hit and soon. But when he and the family move into a house that was the scene of a grisly murder, Ellison thinks he's hit on the story of his life. His wife Tracey (Juliet Rylance, Animal) is supportive but realizes that Ellison needs another hit to keep him going, even though he promises they will return to their real home when his research is completed. He instantly earns the ire of the local sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson, The Hunt for Red October), who's understandably disgusted with Ellison's skewed opinion that the police are nothing more than inept public servants. Soon, Ellison comes across a box of old home movies and a projector in the attic. These items have suddenly and inexplicably appeared, and soon he understands why: they depict a series of family murders spanning 50 years, where one of the children disappears afterwards. Even though he's stunned as the murders are committed, he can't take his eyes off the screen either. Soon, his home becomes the scene of other bizarre discoveries, none of which he shares with Tracey. As Ellison uncovers more information about the murderer and the pagan symbols he leaves behind, Ellison realizes that he's now entered the murderer's path and must protect his family before they become victims as well.  

Writer/Director Scott Derrickson (The Day The Earth Stood Still 2008) weaves a tale that's at once dark and terrifying, but is also filled with some humorous moments between Hawke and James Ransone (Inside Man) who plays a friendly deputy hoping for a chance to get his name in the credits. These scenes help to move the story but also give the audience a chance to breathe and laugh out the tension which Derrickson has produced. Hawke is terrific as the egomaniacal writer whose obsession with the newly discovered 'evidence' clouds his judgement about the real danger now surrounding his family. His descent into this dark world of murder and the supernatural is well-documented all the way to the terrifying end of the film. Thompson, Ransone, and Rylance all turn in good supporting roles, with each having time on screen to grow their characters without overtaking the story. But there's also some misused and overly-used cliche elements that lessen the film's impact. First, there's the cameo of Vincent D'Onofrio (Law and Order: Criminal Intent) as a university professor of the occult who helps Ellison fill in the missing holes about the pagan symbols. These scenes are meant to be casual conversations over video chat, but I felt like the normal bravado of D'Onofrio was sadly missing. Honestly, I had pegged him as part of the murder chain, but Derrickson does a good job at throwing audiences off the scent with D'Onofrio's appearance. Finally, why Derrickson felt the need to add cliche horror elements of dumb people walking through dark houses with tiny flashlights, failing to involve the police, or ignoring the recurring danger in their attic is beyond me.

Sinister is a freakishly-intense little film that raises the blood pressure and might leave some knuckles permanently white from all the clenching. It reminds us how good this genre can be with solid writing and a cast that can handle the tension. While it's filled with some ridiculous horror cliches that always drag these things down, at least it does so with a style and finish we haven't seen in awhile. It probably won't give other recent openings a run for their money, but Sinister does the horror genre correct, representing an excellent matinee value. Be prepared for a good and unexpected ending, which represents just another wild turn for a well-done film. Sinister is rated R for violence and general horror creepy weirdness, and has a runtime of 110 minutes.

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