It started with “The Ring” in 2004 but now with the new movie “Sinister,” in which a ghost haunts reels of old home movies, the poltergeists are putting more of a curse on film than 3-D. Writer-director Scott Derrickson, no stranger to the horror genre after dealing with demons in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” tries his hardest to create a mood and some jump-out-of-your-skin scares but this new haunting is a far cry from “The Shining.”
Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison, a true-crime writer on a losing streak desperately hoping to regain some clout by moving his family into the house of a murdered young girl, although the wife and kids have no idea this is THE house. A search through the attic gets him a box filled with Super 8 tapes, dating back from 1966 to 1998 and detailing the disturbing, grisly murders of other families. Not only that but each one also seems to feature some unknown boogie man.
Much of the rest of the movie Derrickson and his co-screenwriter C. Robert Cargill leave up to his special effects people as floors creek and shadows rush past. Every once in a while we get a jolt from the ghosts/Christopher Young’s bang-like background music (which are few and far between and even fewer for anyone who thinks the “Paranormal Activity” craze is alot of hokey nonsense) but most of them seem to only act as an alarm clock as the poorly-developed story and even lesser characters lull you into sleep. Ellison’s son having night terrors, haunted drawings, ghostly kids, the fact that Ellison never turns on a light to investigate the various bumps in the night. This is all a big mess and the ending made even less sense.
Hawke gives a pretty decent performance, playing a desperate man at the start who only seems to get wearier and crazier as things roll along. It’s not enough to change the fact that Ellison is only here to react, not actually be a character. The rest of the cast, which includes a totally underused Vincent D’Onofrio, have very little to do.
“Sinister” had a lot of advanced buzz coming in and based on the successes of some other recent horror films, i’m sure it’s pretty much on target for what this genre’s audience seeks. But for those who don’t scare so easily, don’t be surprised if this confusing and underdeveloped horror movie inspires more zzzs than aaahs.