In horror movies, they're famous first words: "It's going to be good here. You'll see."
A few weeks back, the mom in "House at the End of the Street" uttered a variation to her daughter, and things were not good. Of course in that movie they were renting a house next to the scene of a double murder.
In "Sinister," Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) isn't content to live near a crime scene.
No, he moves his wife (Juliet Rylance) and their school-age son and daughter into the home where a mother, father and two of their three children were hanged from a tree in the backyard. A third child is missing and presumed dead by the sheriff none too happy to see Ellison in his jurisdiction.
2 1/2 stars = Average
- Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone.
- Rating: R for disturbing violent images and some terror.
Ellison is a true crime writer who struck it rich a decade earlier and has been trying to replicate that success ever since. Desperate for money and another taste of fame, he initially doesn't tell his family about the horrifying history of the house.
Some of their belongings are still unpacked when Ellison finds a box in the attic with a projector and home movies on Super 8 film. They're marked with deceptively innocent labels, but when he starts to watch them, finds they're footage of families being murdered in particularly sadistic ways.
Freaky, frightening things start to happen. and the writer realizes he may have opened a Pandora's box that he cannot run from or slam shut. It turns out the sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson in a very small but savory role) was half right in talking about the killings: "Something like this, you can never explain ... and if you could, you wouldn't like the answer."
Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose," "The Day the Earth Stood Still") directed "Sinister" and co-wrote the script with blogger C. Robert Cargill, who had a nightmare in which he found a box of films and watched a murder just as Ethan Hawke's character does.
"Sinister" made me jump, slightly, twice and gave me goose bumps twice, which is more than most movies. Mr. Hawke makes the crime writer as sympathetic as possible, despite all his missteps -- dude, your son has night terrors and you bring him to this house? It also doesn't make the sheriff and a deputy (James Ransone) into the usual cliches; they're not what they appear at first, which is either an obstructionist or a bumbling fan.
On a practical note, wouldn't a real estate agent perhaps cut down the hangman's tree or at least remove the dead limb that factored into the dirty deed? In the end, though, the movie reaches for the most disturbing and cheapest way to unsettle moviegoers and travels the distance from sinister to sick.