'Sinister' is, but it isn't

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comOctober 12, 2012 

Horror movies are unleashed in bunches around Halloween. These days, not much about them is unusual.

Once in awhile, someone hits on something new. The producers then follow their hit with sequels. Clones follow.

All are inferior to the original and uninteresting.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

This is an important prelude to my review of Sinister. It introduces the villain, Mr. Boogie, a gruesome fiend whose face is a combination of the classic, triangle-faced, flying saucer alien and a skeleton.

It's how Mr. Boogie operates that makes me think there may be sequels if Sinister is a hit and brings in a ton of money.

The jury is out on that one.

Ethan Hawke is true crime writer Ellison Oswalt. Once, he wrote a book that made him a literary hit. Follow-up books weren't so successful. Now, he's desperate for a hit.

To get one, Oswalt moves his wife and two children into a house where a family was murdered. The four members were brutally murdered. They were hung from a tree in the backyard.

A self-absorbed Oswalt -- naturally -- doesn't let his wife or kids know about the grisly crime.

Oswalt's book plans take an unusual twist when ghostly happenings begin. A projector and home movies of other, similar murders in other parts of the country show up in the attic. Instead of turning them over to police, he keeps them.

Not only do ghosts start making noises and Mr. Boogie make an appearance or two, but Oswalt's son also has mysterious fugues; the daughter paints strange pictures. The wife is unhappy.

This is the point where films like this fall apart.

He wanders through the house as the ghosts do their thing, but Hawke's Oswalt never turns on a light. Not once. I don't know about you, but when weird noises happen in my house and when I think someone might be skulking about, I turn on the lights. Lots of them.

But it's a horror movie and to keep things tense -- and you on the edge of your seat -- the lights must remain off. Things pop out from off-screen to loud sound effects, eerie -- but well-done -- music punches up the tension and so on.

It's not special. Just average.

Though he's not all that scary, Mr. Boogie's modus operandi is super sadistic. Mr. Boogie doesn't run about the house with a chainsaw and prune people. There's no machete, axe or any of that. The murders are chilling and disconcerting. We've already described the hanging. It is really ugly and unlike anything you've seen recently -- or maybe ever.

I won't describe the others. But do know they are bizarre and disturbing.

Co-writer Scott Derrickson penned the very creepy and quite intense The Exorcism of Emily Rose a few years ago. He co-writes this one with first-time writer C. Robert Cargill. I have to wonder what type of a mind has this kind of killing floating around in their consciousness.

How do you write something like this and sleep nights?

Other than the way Mr. Boogie kills, neither Mr. Boogie nor Sinister are all that scary. And they're not all that original.

The movie, however, is entertaining in spots. Hawke's Oswalt and a deputy sheriff played by James Ransone have some nice and quite humorous give-and-take that gives the movie some laughs and some forward movement.

But a plot that drags and some nonsense in between the good parts ultimately slow down the film. Turn Sinister into a 45-minute short instead of a 100+ minute feature, and you've got something special and a project that fits the name.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars

Director: Scott Derrickson

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Vincent D'Onofrio, James Ransone

Rated R for violence, mature themes, frightening scenes. It's playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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