Along with a far more imaginative title, “Sinister” needs a ruthless editor to carve about 20 frustrating minutes off its horror-thriller story.
Mixing elements of the found footage and haunted house schools of horror, the latest film from writer-director Scott Derrickson (2005's “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” 2008's “The Day the Earth Stood Still” remake) has plenty of potential. It opens with stark, disturbing images, sets up its paranormal plot with an effective combo of creepy atmospherics, well-timed jump-scares and psychological needling, and boasts Oscar-nominated actor Ethan Hawke (“Training Day”), who anchors the proceedings with a fleshed-out central character.
Before the final credits roll, Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill even manage to work an intriguing twist on the usual horror tropes. But “Sinister” takes far too long to get to that twist, turning what should be a lean and terrifying 90-minute film into a nearly two-hour slog.
Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime writer who made his name and the best-seller lists a decade ago by penning a book that solved a murder the police couldn't. Desperate for another dose of glory, he moves his wife, and children to a cozy suburb where four members of a family recently were found hung in a tree in the backyard, while the youngest — a little girl named Stephanie (Victoria Leigh) — vanished without a trace.
Ellison fails to tell his wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), that the unsolved murders actually happened outside the modest brick house they will be calling home.
After all, Tracy is ready for Ellison to stop moving them around the country and delving into grisly slayings, especially now that their children are old enough to understand his career. Their troublemaking tween son Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) has been suffering from night terrors since he wandered into dad's office one day, and their daughter Ashley (Clare Foley), a budding artist, is begging to move back home to her old school, house and friends.
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Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Michael Hall D'Addario, Clare Foley.
(Disturbing violent images and some terror)
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