“Sinister” goes about as far as a horror movie can with just shocking images, a good cast and outstanding sound design. But this modestly creepy blend of “The Ring” and “The Shining” whiffs on a horror film fundamental: Nobody seems that scared.
What fear there is is faced by one person, and he’s VERY slow to get alarmed over the things that go bump in the night and the boogeyman he thinks he catches a glimpse of, many times.
But Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime author in desperate need of a hit, doesn’t tell his wife and family that he’s moved them into a house that was the scene of a mass murder. He sees nothing weird in the fact that he finds old home movies of that murder (a whole family hanged) and many other murders, and the projector that will show them, all out in the open at what was a one-time crime scene.
And even as he is shocked at the images of mass drownings, group throat-slittings and immolation, and the pale satanic figure that turns up in reflections, in shadows and in the bottom of a pool in those old silent 8-millimeter movies, he doesn’t recoil and flee the house where his boy has night terrors, his daughter is doing strange drawings on the wall and his wife (a fierce Juliet Rylance) wonders what’s going on.
“This could be my ‘In Cold Blood’!” Ellis insists. It’ll be a hit book, make them rich and give them “that happy ending” that he longs for. Right.
Still, a tip of the hat to sound designers Mark Aramian and Dane Davis, who concocted a static-filled, scratchy old music-loop aural milieu for this spookiness to take place in. The silent movies are chillingly scored with their effects and Christopher Young’s music.
If “Sinister” looked and played as insidious as their soundtrack suggests, they’d have had something – another “Insidious,” for instance. They don’t.