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SINISTER (director/writer: Scott Derrickson; screenwriter: C. Robert Cargill; cinematographer: Chris Norr; editor: Frédéric Thoraval; music: Christopher Young; cast: Ethan Hawke (Ellison Oswalt), Juliet Rylance (Tracy), Fred Thompson (Sheriff), James Ransone (Deputy), Michael Hall D’Addario (Trevor), Clare Foley (Ashley), Vincent D’Onofrio (Professor Jonas, Occult Specialist); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating:R; producers: Jason Blum/Brian Kavanaugh-Jones; Summit Entertainment ; 2012)

“Scary but contrived, grim and dumb concept supernatural horror picture.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Scott Derrickson (“The Day the Earth Stood Still“/”The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) directs and co-writes withC. Robert Cargill this scary but contrived, grim and dumb concept supernatural horror picture. It’s another one of those modern-day found footage horror films.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is an arrogant, celebrity, best-seller true-crime writer, who buys a home cheaply and moves to a small town in Pennsylvania where the last occupants were hung from a tree in the back yard and a child abducted. His naive supportive wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and two young children (Michael Hall D’Addario and Clare Foley) are not told they have moved into the crime scene house so the selfish dude can do research for his next book. Before unpacking, Ellison finds in the attic of the new house a box containing a movie projector and a pile of Super 8 films that include the recent four family members hung from a tree and a number of grisly ritualized cult killings dating back to the 1960s and all in different locations across the country. The self-absorbed author turns his home office into a police-like investigation site with maps, photos, newspaper stories and other clues linking the other brutal murders to the same source as the hanging murders. Though obviously being stalked by the killer, eerily watching his 12-year-old son have nightmares, his young artist daughter weird out, finding a scorpion and snake in the attic, and starting to bug out over seeing and hearing supernatural things, yet our vain hero, more interested in material rewards and fame than in being a good family man, fails to move out of the dangerous house, warn his family or notify the police. A friendly deputy sheriff (James Ransone) gets the obsessed author classified info on the other linking crimes and a college professor of the occult (Vincent D’Onofrio) warns him that the symbols left at the various crime scenes indicates it’s the work of cult pagan followers of the ancient Babylonian deity Bughuul, who use the mysterious “Mr. Boogie” to eat the souls of children while he’s dressed in a mask and he possesses them so they carry out bloody ritual acts for their god.

The movie makes little sense and can never be explained to make it seem even remotely possible, the story is forgettable and the scares might be scary but seem more as gestures to the genre than in adequately promoting its premise. It’s uninteresting film-making from a director who seems desperate to make a commercial hit from a story that can’t hold its water.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”