Susan Granger’s review of “Sinister” (Summit Entertainment)
For those searching for pre-Halloween scares, this nightmarish suspense thriller blends found-footage with the search for a serial killer and a haunted house. Setting the tone, the opening scene shows a suburban family of four standing beneath a tree, hoods over their faces and nooses around their necks, just before they’re hoisted into the air, writhing and struggling, until they finally swing silently.
Months later, true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who is desperate to repeat his success of a decade ago, decides to move his loyal, long-suffering wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), son Trevor (Mark Hall D’Addario) and daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) into that same creepy house, hoping not only to solve the mystery of what happened but also to write a new best-seller because, supposedly, the family had a third child, Stephanie (Victoria Leigh), who went missing after the murders.
Going up the creaking steps into the attic, flashlight in hand, whiskey-swilling Ellison finds a box containing a movie projector and five reels of Super 8 footage that depict families slaughtered in various, macabre ways. In one of the snuff films, Ellison glimpses a dark figure with a demonic face, a ghoulish, ghostly image that keeps re-appearing, along with a strange symbol. Obsessed, Ellison consults via Skype with an expert in the occult, Jonas (Vincent D’Onofrio), who identifies the symbol as that of a diabolical pagan deity named Bagul, who was believed to consume the souls of children. As the plot thickens, so does the chronicle of carnage as bloodthirsty Bagul from Babylonia moves into the mortal realm, predictably posing an undeniable danger to tortured Ellison and his unwitting family if they remain in that cursed house.
Formulaically co-written by Ain’t It Cool News reporter C. Robert Cargill and heavy-handed director Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”), it premiered at a super-secret midnight screening at the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) festival several months before its official opening.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Sinister” is an edgy, intense, supernatural 6, ominously heralding a fright-filled fortnight.