Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D'Addario, Clare Foley
Written by: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent images and some terror
Running Time: 110
Date: 03/11/2012

Sinister (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Strew Crime

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still) has a touch for using old horror movie tools to create new scares, and he also incorporates several interesting themes into Sinister. Even if some of his attempts don't quite work some of the time, he still gets credit for trying.

True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) arrives in a small town with his wife (Juliet Rylance) and two kids -- Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) and Ashley (Clare Foley) -- in tow, preparing to work on his latest book. In this case, a family of four was murdered, hung simultaneously from a tree, and the youngest daughter subsequently disappeared. Unfortunately, Ellison has chosen to move into the murder house, and finds a box of Super 8 films that depict the actual murder as well as several others. As he pieces the puzzle together, strange and terrifying things begin to happen. Ellison's life becomes a race to finish the book before he and his family become too deeply involved in a deadly situation.

To start, Derrickson has created a most interesting character in Ellison, struggling between recapturing his former glory and keeping his family safe, pulled helplessly in two directions at once. And Hawke -- wearing a funny, puffy grandpa sweater and shoes -- emphasizes a fascinating clash between courage and weakness in his performance.

Derrickson does pack in too many concepts into his story, mixing the supernatural with the mysterious, and it doesn't quite come together; the themes become jumbled up by the final payoff. But the movie manages some terrifying, startling moments, mainly thanks to a crafty, strangely prickly music score by Christopher Young. Sinister won't hold up to scrutiny, but it's worth a look for horror fans.

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