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The Independent Critic

Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D'Addarrio, Fred Dalton Thompson
Scott Derrickson
C. Robert Cargill, Scott Derrickson
Rated R
110 Mins.
Summit Entertainment
Commentary by Director Scott Derrickson and a Commentary by Derrickson and Co-Writer C. Robert Cargill; True Crime Authors (9:16/HD);Living in a House of Death; Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Commentary (4:56/HD);Theatrical trailer

 "Sinister" Elicits Mostly Snickers  
Sinister is a film for the fan of pop horror, that distinctly market-friendly brand of horror that is devoid of virtually anything and everything that can make true connoisseurs of horror shriek with delight.

The sad thing is that it didn't start off half bad. In fact, about 30 minutes into Sinister I found myself surprisingly hopeful that Sinister would end up being one of 2012's horror delights.

Then, it went "Splat!" faster than Mr. Boogie can say "Boo!"

Ethan Hawke plays Ellison, a true crime writer who is ten years away from his biggest hit and desperate to find his next big story. In fact, he's so desperate to find the next story that he moves his unaware wife (Juliet Rylance) and his two kids, Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addarrio, People Like Us) and Ashley (Clare Foley), into a Pennsylvania home where four members of a family were found hanging from a tree in the backyard and the youngest daughter disappeared.

There are those films that leave you scratching your head wondering how any A-lister could have possibly seen potential in the script. Sinister isn't one of those films. Sinister is one of those films where I picture Ethan Hawke salivating at the thought of making an intelligent and inspired and bold horror film. Then, I picture that same Ethan Hawke showing up at the premiere of the film scratching his head and muttering to himself "What happened?"

Indeed, what happened?

Amidst early cinematic signs of a troubled marriage and two troubled children, Ellison has convinced himself that it will only take one big hit for all his personal and financial woes to be set aside. So, within hours of the family's arrival at the seemingly normal looking ranch-style home he has staked out an "off limits" area of the house as his workspace and before he can even start typing a word he's discovered a mysterious box of home movies left in the attic. These movies, of course, become central to the story and reveal secrets even darker than Ellison could have ever imagined.

This might just be his "In Cold Blood," he imagines.

Hawke is actually rather intriguing as Ellison in these early moments, his hyper-ambition clearly consuming his soul and potentially any semblance of a normal family life. Hawke has never been particularly convincing as an intensely emotional actor, but here he's able to tap into his "conflicted intellectual" shtick that he does so well. He's able to convey just enough depth of emotion that we buy, at least briefly, into the idea that he does actually love his family even if that love has become blinded by his own ambition.

Thus, within the film's first half hour we have established an intriguing story with an intriguing character.

Again, I ask "What went wrong?"

What began as a rather captivating journey through moral dilemmas, real life dramas and relational conflicts becomes a twisted battle between realist drama and supernatural horror.

The film's downward spiral begins with the introduction of a completely ludicrous character who becomes known as Deputy So and So, played so badly by James Ransone that "so and so" would be a step up. It's rather obvious that this deputy's appearance in the film is meant to be a bit of comic relief. Unfortunately, Ransone's performance is so detached and aloof that it's hard not to wonder if we've stumbled into a documentary about Asperger's Disorder.

In case you're wondering, that's not a compliment.

Ransone drains the film of any tension that had been built up, and subsequent appearances in the film are more punch lines than plot points. "Deputy So and So" is either one of the worst characters written into a film this year or the casting director here should be fired.

Take your pick.

What really kills Sinister, however, is that director Scott Derrickson moves the film from its initial realistic roots into the realm of Pagan gods and otherworldly executioners in a way that is disturbingly unimaginative and awkwardly manifested. Rather than finding a way to weave mystery and horror out of Ellison's greed and ambition, Derrickson creates an absurd and unappealing plot thread about an obscure Pagan deity that subsequently derails the film and pretty much everything else that follows the disclosure to be pretty close to meaningless with a pre-destined ending.

Even with an ending that becomes easily predictable well before the film's midway point, Sinister could have been an entertaining film if not for Derrickson's utilization of cheap scares, stereotypical audio effects and what is easily described as the worst make-up job in a horror flick this year. The end result is that a film that starts off with intelligence and mystery becomes a film, complete with obvious ploy for a sequel, elicits more giggles than gasps and that won't shock you even when it really should.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic