‘Sinister’ delivers the scares



Article Published: Oct. 17, 2012 | Modified: Oct. 17, 2012
‘Sinister’ delivers the scares

Ethan Hawke stars in 'Sinister.'



One of the scariest qualities of modern horror movies is the PG-13 rating.

Granted, some work well in those confines, but they’re typically produced to scare up box office success.

Then again, many modern R-rated horrors are just as forgettable. Sure, they’re high on gore and visually disturbing, but what about that feeling of dread, that concept of less is more, in that what you don’t see is the scariest part of all?

Director Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister” plays off that dread, daring to insinuate that the most disturbing of horrors lies within. While the film eventually succumbs to predictability and other horror movie tropes, Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) maintains a dark and foreboding mood that accentuates its disturbing themes, even when they take a backseat to more pedestrian scares.

Ethan Hawke (“Daybreakers”) plays true crime author Ellison Oswalt, a writer who’s looking to reclaim the caliber of fame earned from his best-selling work some 10 years ago.

He’s determined to give it another go, even if it means alienating his wife (Juliet Rynance, “Animal”) and two kids (Clare Foley, HBO’s “Girls,” and Michael Hall D’Addario, “People Like Us”) – and moving them all into a crime scene.

Their new residence isn’t just any ordinary crime scene, however. The family before them was hanged in the backyard, but their youngest daughter was never found, and it’s her disappearance that Ellison means to investigate.

His research takes a turn for the outright disturbing when he discovers a box of Super 8 home movies in the attic. Each reel depicts the grisly murder of another family in another place, dating back to the 1960s and leading up to the present.

Rather than inform the police of his find, Ellison instead decides to keep everything secret and pursue the story, determined to find a link between the murders – all of which include the disappearance of the youngest child.

Upon watching the films, he discovers a clue that – against all his reasoning – could link the cases to something supernatural and even more sinister. And that’s when things start going bump in the night.

Derrickson keeps the proceedings progressively spooky, effectively conveying Ellison’s sense of dread every time a film reel is threaded into the projector. But into the film’s second act, the audience is only kept in the dark literally. The plot and its eventual outcome become a little too apparent, but moody cinematography keeps much of the action in the shadows, playing off the “what you don’t see is scarier” theme.

When we actually see what’s creating those bumps in the night, we’re only left with jump scares and a disappointing sense of having seen it before – right down to the characters acting like they’ve never watched a horror movie. I mean, who wouldn’t turn on the lights before investigating heavy foot steps in the attic?

Despite some of these clichés, the performances are spot on, particularly Hawke, who brings a welcome degree of complexity to a standard-issue, somewhat familiar character.

Ellison is borderline Jack Torrance from “The Shining,” a troubled writer with some obvious familial issues and an established drinking problem – motivated by personal interest, even at the cost of his family’s safety.

But Hawke brings a sense of understated realism to the role that distinguishes it from Jack Nicholson’s stellar “Shining” performance.

Understatement works to the film’s advantage, along with its initial less-is-more sensibility. “Sinister” isn’t anything masterful, but it’s disturbingly effective and enough to make you turn on the lights for that midnight trip to the bathroom.

“Sinister,” rated R for disturbing violent images and some terror, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 15-B or visit http://www.mounatintimes.com/movies.

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