Review: SINISTER (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Review: SINISTER (2012)

Review: SINISTER (2012)

SINISTER involves Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a highly-successful true-crime novelist who took the publishing world by storm with "Kentucky Blood". But that was ten years ago. Now he's been laying low for so long that he has exhausted most of his earnings and desperately needs another bestselling hit. In hope to begin his writing on his new book, he moves his family to a rural town in Pennsylvania. Unbeknownst to his wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and children, 12-year-old Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) and 8-year-old Ashley (Clare Foley), the house they have currently moved in is actually a subject of Ellison's latest work. Apparently, it is the same location where a family was murdered and found hang from the tree that still stands in the backyard. Except for the only member who was not found -- the youngest daughter named Stephanie (Victoria Leigh), abducted and long presumed to be dead. One day, Ellison stumbles upon a box of Super 8 reels and a projector in the attic. Curious to know what it is, he brings it down to his private office and discovers that each reel is labelled like home movies for the family. When he begins playing each of the reels, he is shocked to discover that the footage contains a different family being first stalked by the Super 8 camera, then ended up being killed. As he tries to piece out the eerie connection together, he slowly discovers that it has something to do with a demonic pagan deity known as Bughuul a.k.a. Mr Boogie (Nicholas King), who seems to appear in every reel Ellison has been playing all along.


Seven years ago, Scott Derrickson made his first directing debut in a terrifying horror movie, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005). That movie was a rare gem, especially the way how he handled the theme of exorcism so effectively. Now seven years later, he's back with the same horror genre in SINISTER. At the first glance, SINISTER sounds like another winner for Derrickson: a classic, haunted house spookfest mixed with the found-footage horror genre. Unfortunately, this movie is mostly a ho-hum experience that only works in certain portions.

Judging from the premise itself, C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson's screenplay does sound like creepy enough. Personally, I appreciate what Derrickson has done to replicate the classic horror genre of the yesteryears -- deliberate pacing, build-up tension and such.

But the overall execution is so patchy and shopworn to the point that the movie does feels redundant most of the time. Not only that, it seems that Derrickson is often stuck with lots of flashy visual style (you'll know when you see one) that they are more like a showy bag of horror tricks than anything else matters. Then there's the payoff, which is sadly a huge disappointment, especially given with all the slow build-up viewers have patiently trying to expect something shocking is going to happen. Instead what we have here is a winking nod to THE SHINING (1980) and THE RING (2002)-like ending. No doubt those two movies are a good inspiration here, except that the ending feels like a total cop-out. And lastly, the Bughuul itself is hardly scary at all. For a supposedly demonic deity, Bughuul comes across like a carbon copy of Jigsaw from SAW movies or simply a weirdo wearing a Halloween mask.

Despite all the glaring flaws, there is some minor saving grace here. The cast does their best to make their otherwise stereotypical roles worthwhile. Ethan Hawke gives a very esteemed performance as an overly-ambitious novelist who is about to go way over his head. Making her first major feature, Juliet Rylance is perfectly cast as an estranged wife trying to make sense with her ignorant husband, Ellison, who doesn't realise his course of action has jeopardised his own family. Lastly, James Ransone brings a welcome comic relief as a young town deputy who adores Ellison's work and wants to help him with his new book.

Technical-wise, SINISTER is adequate enough. Aside from Christopher Young's suspenseful score, the spooky sound effects are particularly effective, thus making some of the jump scares worthy of a jolting experience.

Despite an engaging performance from Ethan Hawke and some effective spooky moments, SINISTER is disappointingly patchy and repetitive with Bughuul fails to register as a scary bogeyman.

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