Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who has just knowingly moved his family into a house where four people died. The reason why this mysterious but ghastly incident occurred will provide him with the ingredients of a hit bestseller, or so he hopes. Then there’s the box full of old Super 8, reel to reel movies he finds in the attic: who put them there, who made them and what’s on them? Instead of researching the case online or at the library, Hawke spends hours going through each home movie, which contains one gruesome murder scene after another. It was around this point that the movie lost me completely.
I love a good horror movie, don’t mind being scared and, come October, I watch scores of monster and scary movies. Yet, I’m not a hardcore horror movie fan, meaning I don’t like or watch movies where the emphasis is on torture, human suffering or mutilation for the sake of a cheap, sleazy thrill. I love classic horror films, never miss the latest from Freddy, Jason or Michael and am a big fan of recent classics like Let the Right One In, Monsters and Insidious.
On the other hand, I hate the Saw films, refuse to watch garbage like Faces of Death and don’t go out of my way to see movies horror fans describe with glee as “really wrong.” This latter description is in line with the fan base for Sinister, a well made horror film that is more sick than scary.
It’s a messy blend of haunted house tale, “found footage” gimmick and torture snuff (some call it “torture porn,” but I refuse, as the word “porn” makes it sound appealing to some). While online horror fans have already declared it a new classic, the movie reminds me most of the eerie but stupid remake of The Amityville Horror.
Like The Ring, (a better film with a similar emphasis on the allure of discovered footage), the mood is so intense that you may overlook the film’s inherent absurdity. The movies within the movie are grotesquely staged murder scenes but the rest is pretty bad in goofier ways.
There are lots of scenes with kids playing ghosts and wearing what looks like bad Halloween makeup. The main threat is a spirit named Mr. Boogie, who sounds more like a dance buddy of Disco Stu. Boogie may spawn a successful spin-off mask but the character, who resembles an overly made up Alice Cooper, barely does anything and isn’t that interesting.
Hawke is quite good, despite the exceedingly ridiculous nature of his character. The part requires him to have obligatory fights with his wife, look petrified and maintain his dignity while reciting poorly written dialogue. Vincent D’Onofrio is wasted as a spiritual expert who’s only seen on Skype in two exposition-heavy scenes and the actress cast as Hawke’s daughter is photographed and made up to look so spooky, it’s obvious from the start that something is up with her.
Like the recent Orphan, this goes beyond The Bad Seed and Pet Sematary in using children in dubious, tasteless ways. Like all bad horror movies, Sinister tries too hard to shock and relies as much on loud, sudden noises as it does icky imagery.
The dumbest touch comes near the end, when Mr. Boogie gives Hawke a new batch of films, which actually carry the labels “with extended endings,” as though they were a special edition DVDs. Perhaps in the inevitable sequel Mr. Boogie will also provide his own director’s commentary.
Rated R / 110 Min.