‘One wretched affair’
Less flavor than a watered-down Shining
Boozy true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is desperate for another bestseller, so he uproots his long-suffering family and relocates them to a suburban house where another family was sacrificed in a sinister ritual. Of course, he doesn’t clue his wife in to that li’l bit of info. But ol’ Oswalt is pretty short on clues himself, seeing how he finds a box of 8mm home movies and a projector up in the attic—a box that wasn’t there before they moved in—and still stays put.
Now, some folks might think that someone sneaking back into a murder house to plant a sinister housewarming gift to be a very, very ominous development, but Oswalt is so desperate to resurrect his career that he sort of goes with the flow. Even after he realizes that the found footage is not just of the prior family being snuffed, but also a few other families scattered across the map.
Naturally, he doesn’t bother turning the crucial evidence of these capital crimes over to the police, ’cause that’d end the movie a half-hour into the proceedings—which would have been nice. Instead he spends most of the film’s running time either pulling his best Nicolas Cage face while watching the grainy 8mm footage or padding around the dark house investigating eerie noises. All this ends up pretty much as you’d expect it to end.
Sinister is one wretched affair. It really, really wants to be a suburban version of The Shining, but has no idea how to go about it other than lifting a few obvious aspects and having Oswalt paraphrase Jack Torrance. And instead of a kid doing that stupid finger thing, here we have a bunch of kids in bad makeup trying to look creepy by doing their own stupid finger thing. It just looks stupid.
Now, some folks argue that horror films are supposed to be stupid, so those folks might be impressed by this butt-numbing Frankenstein of faux snuff footage and wannabe J-horror. But I found the whole thing to be boring, derivative and kind of ludicrous. (Admittedly, it does look good, though.) There are some flashes of wit, but the jump scares play flat and the pacing is sluggish and redundant. Even worse, it’s not scary at all.