Proof that a great idea can still lead to a disappointing movie
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Written by C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson
Cinematography by Chris Norr
Music Composed by Christopher Young
Ethan Hawke ... Ellison Oswalt
Juliet Rylance ... Tracy
Fred Dalton Thompson ... Sheriff
James Ransone ... Deputy
Michael Hall D'Addario ... Trevor
Clare Foley ... Ashley
Vincent D'Onofrio ... Professor Jonas
Runtime: 110 min
MPAA: Rated R for disturbing violent images and some terror Official Website
The worst sin a horror movie can commit is having a great idea and then throwing it all away with a movie that doesn't deserve the promise that it suggests. What makes it even worse is that Ethan Hawke is really trying here and Scott Derrickson showed so much promise with The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
The movie opens with four people, two adults and two children, bound with nooses around their necks, attached to a tree. One of the heavy branches is sawed off by an unseen assailant and all four individuals are raised off the ground and dangle there until they are dead. After watching this, we move to the present day.
Ethan Hawke is true-crime author Ellison Oswalt. He is working on a book about these grizzly deaths, which also included the added horror of the fact that one of the family's children was never found. Ellison moves his family into the house that the murders happened at, although his wife and kids don't know this. Immediately, we learn that Elliott is not the most popular person in the world when the town's sheriff (Fred Thompson) shows up and tells him that he really doesn't want him in the town.
See, Ellison's best book helped break open a case that the law enforcement agency screwed up on and helped bring the truth to the light. However, that was his bestselling book and the last two were flops, including one that allowed the actual killer to get off. As a result, Ellison is more than interested in reviving his struggling career and writing another hit. This case is the one that he hopes will help him get back to the top.
Ellison finds a box in the attic of the new home with a film projector and some reels, so he brings them downstairs and begins to watch them. Soon, he realizes that these are snuff films showing real murders, including the one he is studying, and they all have one connection: a scary looking demonic figure that pops up here and there in the videos. All the murders also include a missing child.
This setup is great and the film had so much promise. However, there are two major problems with Sinister. The first is that it is about 20 minutes too long. If this film had clocked in at 90 minutes, it could have been a nice tight thriller. The other problem is the exact opposite complaint. The film did not spend nearly enough time developing its characters, all of whom are paper thin.
In a horror movie, the director and writer should want their audience to feel for the victims and want them to survive. There is nothing in this movie that makes you care about any of the characters. The idea is great, but there is no substance. Ellison is the most frustrating of horror clichés. He makes the same dumb mistakes over and over again. When you know he shouldn't do something, he turns around and does it. The man is an author, and said at one point in the movie that he could edit textbooks. However, he is also the dumbest person in the entire movie. By the end, you almost believe he deserves to die.
His wife is given a bit of screen time, but not enough to make you worry about her. She says this is the last time she will move with him for one of his books and will leave him if he continues to chase a dream that moves further away. I will give her some credit when she said one of the smartest things in the movie after he exclaims that writing is what gives his life purpose and his books are his legacy. Her response is the one part of the movie that actually made her worth cheering for.
Ellison also has two children, a son who has night terrors and a daughter who likes to draw on walls. That is their complete description and you learn nothing more about them. If you want to make a horror movie really frightening, put the children in danger. They were in danger here because Ellison learns from an occult expert via Skype (Vincent D'Onofrio) that the demon eats children's souls. However, the description I just gave of the kids is all we get of them. They are there as background props to use when needed but are not realistically drawn characters at all.
And instead of letting us get to know this family and care about them, more than half of the movie's running time shows Ellison watching the snuff films over and over and over and over. He walks through a dark house when he hears a bump in the night with nothing but a flashlight. On one occasion the power goes out, but the rest of the time the power is on and Ellison refuses to turn on lights. I guess it is scarier that way. It just makes Ellison one of the dumbest horror characters of the decade.
You have Ellison watching the snuff films and walking around a dark house for a good hour of the running time, easily. During this time, you want to reach through the screen and slap Ethan Hawke.
The only character in the movie that is even partially worth liking is "Deputy So-and-So." James Ransone brings a down home likability to the character that is a fan-boy, but also proclaims to Ellison he has a criminology degree and is good at his job. He is good at his job and figures out what Ellison doesn't learn until it is too late. He also has the best line in the movie. After he tells Ellison that this could all be the situation of living in the victim's house messing with his head, Ellison says "so you don't believe in the supernatural?' The deputy responds by saying "I believe in all of it. There is no way I would ever sleep in this house after what happened!"
It is the only time that the viewer can actually relate to someone in the movie.
Scott Derrickson is a great director and brought some very real jump scares here. His ideas here are fantastic as well and the twist at the end is creative and fresh, although the final scene was pretty stupid. However, this movie was all style and no substance. Sinister is a movie that will make you jump but after you see it, all it does it leave you thinking about what a better movie it could have been.
The 411: If you want cheap, but well done, jump scares and a great setup with an interesting twist, Sinister has that. If you want a good story with characters you actually care about and a streamlined plot that will leave you satisfied, there is nothing to see here.