Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone
Directed by: Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”)
Written by: Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) and C. Robert Cargill (debut)
While horror movies are traditionally lowbrow affairs, at the very least they usually can be counted on to offer up a somewhat interesting puzzle to go along with the cheapo scares and gallons of blood. Whether it’s finding out the killer is actually the main character’s long-lost brother or that the evil spirit inhabiting the creepy kid can be sent packing back to Hell with the right incantation, the saving grace of most horror movies is the “aha!” moment. Whether it’s clever or makes your eyes roll is another story. But then there are horror movies that run in a straight line from A to B, climaxing without any real revelation or explanation. Disappointingly, “Sinister” falls into this trap.
The film stars Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime author in search of his next hit. Without their knowledge, Ellison moves his family into the house where the grisly murder he’s researching took place. Four members of the previous family were hanged from a broken tree in the backyard and their youngest daughter has gone missing. Almost immediately, some spooky sounds draw Ellison into the attic, leading to the discovery of a box filled with innocently-labeled Super 8 film rolls and an ancient projector. Noticing the box wasn’t among the evidence the police collected after the crime, Ellison spools up the first reel and discovers the backyard hanging captured on film. The rest of the box reveals film of more murders, each one featuring a shadowy specter lurking in the background.
Further investigation identifies the ghoul as Mr. Boogie, perhaps better known as Bagul, a demon who feeds on the souls of children and can venture out of his realm via images of himself – in this case the Super 8 films. As Ellison watches more of the reels, Mr. Boogie ramps up the torment, throwing everything from scorpions to snakes to zombie-faced kids in an effort to get him to…do something, I guess.
Once “Sinister” identifies the threat as a demon with no regard for the limitations of the physical world, the rest of the film becomes a giant shrug. Seemingly half-hearted red herrings are sprinkled along the way, like a confrontational sheriff (former presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson) and a weirdo demon expert (Vincent D’Onofrio). Would either of them have something to do with Mr. Boogie? Is one of them Mr. Boogie in disguise? Nope, sorry everyone. Mr. Boogie is just an unstoppable demon bent on following an oddly specific ritual before he kills. All that’s left is to try and figure out is exactly how Ethan Hawke is going to die.