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Review: 'Sinister' delivers authentic chills

This interesting take on the 'found footage' narrative is boosted by Ethan Hawke's desperate portrayal of a writer in pursuit of a home's gruesome mysteries.

October 11, 2012|By Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times
  • Ethan Hawke stars in "Sinister."
Ethan Hawke stars in "Sinister." (Phil Caruso / Summit Entertainment )

In "Sinister," Ethan Hawke plays a down-on-his-luck true crime writer desperate for a hit, who moves his family into a house in which the previous occupants died under ominous circumstances. That turns out to be a big mistake.

He soon discovers a box of old home movies, actual filmstrip movies with the necessary projector even, in the attic that seem to be a series of snuff films, families murdered over decades with only fleeting glimpses of a mysterious, ghoulish figure pointing to who is behind it all.

Pursuing the story of those films and whether he has put his own family in the path of whoever made them drive Hawke's writer relentlessly to the brink of madness.

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Written by C. Robert Cargill and director Scott Derrickson, "Sinister" offers an interesting twist on the recent wave of "found footage" movies — in that the main character actually finds some footage that propels the narrative forward, with the grisly home movies providing a series of unsettling interludes along the way.

Hawke gives a committed performance as Ellison Oswalt, a man torn between a desire to protect his family and a need to make his next book a sensational success. James Ransone delivers a strong supporting turn as a small-town deputy who just might be more on-the-ball than he first appears.

Rather than another drearily workaday horror picture, "Sinister" uses the supernatural to underline its examination of the all-too-human foibles of insecurity and myopic self-centeredness. As the best horror stories so often do, "Sinister" makes clear that we are our own boogeymen, the worst monsters of all.

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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'Sinister'

MPAA rating: R for disturbing violent images and some terror

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Playing: In general release

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