EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 14, 2012

'Sinister' lives up to its name

By Greg Vellante Eagle-Tribune Movie Reviewer
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — I must admit, I have extreme envy towards the easily scared — at least in relation to horror films like “Sinister.”

When it comes to recent entries in this genre — “Sinister” included — I often find myself fighting boredom, confusion or just plain disconnection from the events on screen and desiring, wholeheartedly, to just be scared during one of these blasted things.

Perhaps it comes from seeing too many of these films. Horror and romantic comedies remain two of my favorite formulaic genres, but the problem is that this formula and the conventions of such become so exhaustively familiar that it is hard to find much freshness in the same tired shtick.

Also I may be biased, and admittedly so, as I viewed David Lynch’s terrifyingly surreal horror masterpiece “Eraserhead” for the first time just a couple days before viewing “Sinister.”

It’s no challenge — the latter is like watching cat videos on YouTube in comparison.

This isn’t saying “Sinister” is a bad film, as it is actually one of the better horror movies of recent years, but it pales in contrast to greats such as “Eraserhead” or Kubrick’s “The Shining” because it never quite nails the genius of establishing an ominous atmosphere throughout the entirety of the film.

If you can keep your audience locked in fear, you’ve got something brilliant. If you occasionally suspend them in anxiety and shock them with jump-scares, you’ve got something redundant.

But redundancy is quite entertaining in “Sinister,” a frequently effective fright-machine that makes the most of the familiar footing it treads. It follows a true-crime novelist named Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) who relocates his family into the house where a family was hanged just outside the back door.

As he begins to investigate the deaths through a mysterious box of “home movies”—grisly Super 8 film stock portraying brutal, connected murders — he uncovers a mystery of ghostly forces that begin to threaten not only his sanity, but his entire family as well.

The movie has got the mood down, and uses it wisely to promote a chilling vibe of supernatural scare tactics and intriguing mystery, but something unfortunately gets lost in the mix. The balance of humor, while refreshing, feels jarring at times — as well as laughs that seem to arise from unintentionally humorous moments (as in, why can’t Ethan Hawke learn how to flick a light switch?).

For the easily scared, the movie will be a surefire hit. For those with thicker skin, “Sinister” is still very likely to entertain. All in all, it’s just another standard-issue horror film where the scares aren’t half as amusing as the woman shrieking from the front row and yelling expletives every time they happen.

With this being an actual reality during my viewing of the film, I wasn’t at all angry towards this woman’s audible reactions. If anything, I desperately wished to join her.

Sinister 2 1/2 out of 4 Stars