Why are horror movie characters so averse to overhead lighting? In Sinister, Ethan Hawke's freaked-out family man spends much of his time creeping around the house in the middle of the night, chasing after unseen invaders with little but the dim glow of his cell phone light and the occasional flicker of a desk lamp to guide him. How can we care about the safety of a guy that can't even invest in a few candles?
Making matters worse, he's a guy who should know better; Ellison Oswald is a true-crime writer, a supposed expert in all the gruesome ways that people go about getting themselves killed. That doesn't stop him from moving his young, unwitting family into a house where a nasty ritual slaughter was committed. OK, the murders took place in the back yard, which is a point that Oswald actually tries to sell to his understandably outraged wife (Juliet Rylance). Yet our intrepid researcher-writer, desperate for another best-seller after a long drought, continues to blow through all stop signs, from the grouchy hick sheriff (former political punching bag Fred Thompson), to the box full of Super 8 film cans in the attic, which contains footage of gory details from multiple mass slayings, spread out over many years and thousands of miles. Having apparently never watched any episodes of CSI or NCIS, our man continues to dig for clues, and stays firmly planted right at the scene of the last crime. He isn't bothered when his son starts having intense night terrors, and doesn't even seem discouraged at finding children's drawings of the various killings, all featuring stick figure drawings of a ghoul called "Mr. Boogie."
When Ellison spots a weird, monstrous face lingering in all of the old films, and then spots that same figure lurking around his bushes, his first instinct is to grab a baseball bat and act like Miguel Cabrera auditioning for a part in Ghostbusters 3. By the time the home movie projector starts mysteriously turning itself on, the audience is practically begging this fool to head for the hills.
Maybe it's because fear tends to impair clear thinking, but it's very hard not to imagine ourselves displaying a bit more common sense in this sort of scenario; though Sinister is not grounded in recognizable human behavior, but in the beats of other horror films. Imbedded in the DNA here are hints of Paranormal Activity, The Ring, and The Shining, as we wonder if the hero has gone insane or is merely dumb as a box of hammers.
As hindered by silly genre tropes as the picture is, director Scott Derrickson milks a few good scares, due to some clever setups in the found footage, and some truly disturbing sound design. Still, it's hard to be scared if you see the shocks coming. Even when the lights aren't on. mt
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