Crash Analysis: SINISTER (2012)

Smart to derivative in three acts 

Egomaniacal writer endangers family 

SINISTER had such promise: A strong beginning, relatable yet interesting characters, great dialogue, Ethan Hawke’s spot-on acting, and some rock solid, if not disturbing intrigue.

The first act alone is enough to make horror fans twinge from delight. After all, a noted but struggling true crime author just moved his family into a house of horror where another family had been butchered, and one child kidnapped. Oh, and his wife and two children don’t have a clue about their new homestead. Then again, Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) has let his ego get the best of him, and wants to bounce back from the writing doldrums with a new, killer hit.

Sadly, after a smart and enticing first act, the second phase of the picture also heads down the path of writing doldrums. Writers Scott Derrickson (who also directed), and fellow scribe C. Robert Cargill, lost their collective sense of creativity and imagination. Instead of delivering a strong finish with a chilling climax, the story’s end is telegraphed a mile away. Besides seeing it all coming, the scares waned thanks to trite and hackneyed storytelling. Then again, Derrickson has little to celebrate from previous horror ventures. Responsible for the likes of URBAN LEGEND: THE FINAL CUT (2000), HELLRAISER: INFERNO (2000), and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005), he has yet to deliver a full-blown, quality driven narrative for audiences. SINISTER is Cargill’s first writing project, but he’s rejoined Derrickson for the upcoming WHEN GRAVITY FAILS, which should be out in 2014. Will they let us down again?

Hawke’s the cornerstone of the movie, and holds up his part of the bargain as he carries the story on his back, only to trudge along in the third act as if hauling bricks like a broken Atlas. He shines brightly, but the story lets him down, and the writers only have themselves to blame. James Ransone plays the awkward, nerdy, Barney Fife like deputy, who’s ultimately more intelligent than he seems. This one element, the “dumb” character, undermined the seriousness of the film, and signaled that the entire story was about to unravel. Although the acting was strong throughout SINISTER, especially from the great Fred Dalton Thompson as the Sheriff, Juliet Rylance, who played the wife, came up short as the concerned wife. In the end, she’s too melodramatic.

Chris Norr, however, delivers some decent cinematography, especially concerning the use of darkness where he captures a great balance between what is, and what is not seen.

This is one horror that will leave most viewers angry. After all, genius became mediocrity, as if Derrickson is an alchemist in reverse who has the power to turn gold into lead. Such a shame and such a let down.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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