Starring Ethan Hawke & Juliet Rylance • R, 110 min. Released Oct. 12, 2012
If you’re looking for an after Halloween jolt or two, here’s a scary-movie treat that’ll do the trick.
In “Sinister,” Ethan Hawke plays a true-crime novelist, Ellison Oswalt, who relocates with his wife and kids to the Pennsylvania town where the subjects of his latest book-in-progress were murdered.
As they’re unpacking the van, we get the impression he’s done this kind of thing before. “We didn’t move a few doors down from a crime scene again, did we?” asks his wife (British actress Juliet Rylance). Of course not, assures Ellison.
He’s not lying---because he’s actually moved his unsuspecting brood smack onto ground zero itself, into the very house where four previous occupants met a hideous end in their backyard, and from which one young child went inexplicably missing.
The case has stumped the local cops, including the police chief (J. Fred Thompson), who’s none too pleased that Oswalt has come to his town to pick at an old wound.
Ellison is hoping, however, he’ll find inspiration he needs to lift his career out of a major slump. It’s been 10 years since his last bestseller. “I’ve never been onto something this big before,” he tells his wife. “This could be my ‘In Cold Blood.’”
His young daughter likes to paint on her bedroom walls, an activity that seems harmless enough. But just wait---those darling drawings will get creepier. His teenage son suffers from “night terrors,” which are creepy enough to begin with.
Their house will soon be springing other surprises, including a box in the attic of what appears to be home movies. The films, however, turn out to be something far more unsettling than their benign-sounding titles suggest.
As Ellison watches the profoundly disturbing movies, it points him to a story much bigger than his local case---and leads him to consult with a professor (an uncredited Vincent D’Onofrio) who suggests something even more ancient, supernatural and terrifying.
The story takes Ellison down a tunnel of increasingly dark discoveries. There are some intensely unsettling images, several of them involving children, although what the movie doesn’t explicitly show is more unsettling still.
Echoing elements of some other well-known fright films, particularly “Children of the Corn,” “The Shining” and “The Amityville Horror,” “Sinister” will probably split the vote among horror fans. Some viewers will probably say they saw its ending coming several goose bumps away.
But others will likely find it a stylishly made, perversely twisted tale that swirls with murder, madness, ghosts, demons and the stuff of nightmares...pretty much just what many grownup trick-or-treaters want for a fright-night cinematic snack.
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