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The Telegram
  • Movie review: ‘Sinister’ is unnerving from first frame to last

  • As far as things-that-go-bump-in-the-night movies go, “Sinister” is pretty good. It’s got creepy noises and harrowing visuals, and it keeps a slightly, sometimes quite a bit more than slightly, unnerving mood all the way through.

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  • As far as things-that-go-bump-in-the-night movies go, “Sinister” is pretty good. It’s got creepy noises and harrowing visuals, and it keeps a slightly, sometimes quite a bit more than slightly, unnerving mood all the way through.
    But unlike similar films like the over-praised “Paranormal Activity” series, this one’s also got a bit of star power. Ethan Hawke, who hasn’t had a hit since “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” in 2007, is the film’s protagonist. He plays Ellison Oswalt, a happy family man who, a decade ago, wrote a successful true crime book, and is now still trying to follow up on it, especially because things haven’t been going so well for him in the ensuing years.
    Cops hate him because he exposed some bad cops, money problems are growing, and his wife and kids may not be all that happy with the problems caused by his profession.
    This time out he’s brought them to a small Pennsylvania suburb, where the horrific murder of a family, along with a possible kidnapping, will, he’s sure, make a great subject for that next book, the one that will again win him acclaim.
    The film is prefaced by a grainy home movie showing four hooded people being hanged from a large tree. Viewers have no idea what’s going on.
    Enter the Oswalt family, moving into their new home, and Ellison’s wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), asking him, a little nervously, and a little angrily, “Is this one two or three houses down from a crime scene again?” To which he replies, a little too quickly, “No!”
    It’s only moments later that viewers, but not his wife, realize he’s not quite telling the truth. That’s made clear when he looks into the backyard, where the very recognizable tree from which those bodies were hanging stands.
    Familiar horror elements start welling up. There are stormy nights, there’s a power outage, there are glimpses of things within the shadows. And in the nearly empty attic, aside from a skittering scorpion and a rather large coral snake, there’s a mysterious cardboard box containing a projector and a handful of super 8 films, each depicting pleasant family home movies, all shot surreptitiously, each of which devolves into the violent murders of those families.
    Fans of this type of horror film will know what comes next. Newcomers to the genre will see Ellison, along with his unwitting family, become far more involved in the writing of that book than they would ever want to be.
    Writing and direction are competent, and director Scott Derrickson knows where to put the scares as well as what will cause nervous laughter among viewers. Hawke does a good job at conveying his character’s thoughts without a whole lot of dialogue. He’s seen mostly alone, watching those home movies, drinking whiskey, and getting both more fascinated and more nervous.
    Page 2 of 2 - Thankfully, the film is more scary than violent or gory (although there is some of that). The most fun audiences can get out of this is the communal experience of sitting in the dark, anxiously waiting for something bad to happen, then screaming together when it does ... but not exactly when you expect it.

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