The real demon in Scott Derrickson's Sinister is the monomania of the lead character -- a real crime author named Ellison Oswalt (props to screenwriters Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill for a great name) looking for his next red meat bestseller. As played by Ethan Hawke, Oswalt is a bundle of unrealized potential, married to an affectionate British beauty (Juliet Rylance) and father to two fairly innocuous moppets -- the girl (Claire Foley) is a budding muralist and the boy (Michael Hall D'Addario) is an androgynous mess of pre-teen attitude prone to night terrors. As the film opens, Oswalt has moved his family to an unnamed town and into the house where a grisly family murder took place. Inexplicably, he keeps this important little detail from his wife, who when she's not cooing and pledging undying support is a whining scold. (So both hot and cold taps work.) Before long, as Oswalt settles into the investigation of the murders (8mm footage of which he finds in the attic along with home movies of other family murders dating back a few decades) he hears bumps in the night and discovers creepy occult connections between the current and previous unsolved murders, most importantly that in each case one of the children in the family went missing. With the help of a star-struck and nameless county deputy (The Wire's James Ransone) and a university professor (an uncredited Vincent D'Onofrio) he fits the pieces of the puzzle together. The film has a few solid jolts but otherwise is a mass of borrowed ideas. I do like that the lead character is a journalist on the hunt for the truth. I don't like that he's a self-involved, manipulative ass. See it if you like but leave the kids at home.


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