Sinister REVIEW

Ethan Hawke in Sinister.
Release Date: 5 October 2012
15 | 110 minutes
Distributor: Momentum
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Clare Foley, James Ransome, Juliet Rylance

Ellison Oswalt might be the first horror movie character ever to have a good reason for moving into a haunted house. A true crime writer in search of his next bestseller, he thinks the story of the unsolved murders that took place in his new family home will make him famous.

Unfortunately for him, things don’t quite work out that way, because there’s something far creepier than a serial killer behind this particular mystery. When Ellison watches a box of Super-8 home movies he found in the attic, he unwittingly unleashes a demonic entity upon his own family.

With its connections to Insidious and Paranormal Activity splashed all over the poster, you’d expect a fair number of supernatural chills from Sinister. And it delivers – though not immediately. For almost an hour, Sinister could be a straightforward crime procedural; it’s not until the halfway mark that it gives up the pretence and gets on with being a demon-fest.

Though the scares are undeniably effective, there’s something forced about them. Each shock is delivered with almost mathematical precision; as the lights are turned out and the anxious music is turned up, it’s impossible to forget that you’re being manipulated. The screenplay constantly shrieks for attention, wanting you to notice how clever it’s being, making it impossible to actually enjoy the story. It’s like watching someone put together a particularly difficult jigsaw puzzle: it might require some skill, but there’s little artistry to it, and it’s not much fun watching the picture come together.

What’s missing from Sinister is some kind of warmth, or even humour. Ellison is a well-developed character, but he’s not likeable, and everyone else is just there to dish out exposition as needed. (One character in particular seems to have been invented just so we didn’t have to watch Ethan Hawke typing queries into Google over and over again.) By not giving us anyone to root for or relate to, the film puts a time limit on its own creepiness.

Remember being a bit nervous about the possibility of Sadako clambering out of your telly a week after you watched Ring? That’s not going to happen here. It’s scary while it lasts, but Sinister’s demons won’t follow you outside the doors of the cinema.

Sarah Dobbs twitter.com/SarahDobbs

Read an interview with Sinister director Scott Derrickson.
Watch the Sinister trailer.
Read more of our film reviews.

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