Sinister is a grueling experience in domestic-drama-ghost-kid suckage that's only intermittently brought to life by jump scares and laughable scenes of Ethan Hawke acting opposite such esteemed co-stars as an Apple laptop and a bedsheet. Sporting a silly-looking goblin villain who, ironically, isn't in the film nearly enough, this supernatural-horror flick takes its sweet time getting the ball rolling before falling into a sandbox full of tired genre clichés near the end. Taking its cues from both the J-horror trend as well as Paranormal Activity, Sinister's scares and premise are so well-worn, yet it seems that the filmmakers think that they're delivering something special -- a glossy horror movie for film geeks who want to pour over the loading of an 8mm projector again and again and again. Sinister's love for loading a projector is the horror equivalent of Kevin Costner in JFK showing the footage of Kennedy's assassination over and over -- load the film, close the cover, flip the switch on -- and repeat. Load and flip. "Back and to the left."
If the constant, quick close-up shots of the projector don't get under horror audiences' Sam Raimi-loving skins, maybe the speedy cuts of coffee brewing will -- or the flashy locking/unlocking of doorknobs might do the trick. Honestly, director Scott Derrickson unleashes so much unnecessary style in Sinister that it's amazing that the dialogue scenes aren't full of jump cuts. As it is, the picture languishes when it comes to character drama in such a way that it's unclear if the filmmakers knew they were making a horror movie. And while a slow and steady style may have won the race with other scare flicks released in 2012 (i.e., The Possession), Sinister does a crummy job of keeping the audience engaged even as it mimics the deliberate pacing of much better horror films of old.
In the acting department, Ethan Hawke gets points for ramping up the grizzled nature of his true-crime-author character (most likely filmed out of sequence) as he slowly goes mental dealing with a supernatural 8mm projector that plays snuff footage filmed by the ancient deity known as Bughuul (aka Mr. Boogie) -- who most resembles a rejected member of Slipknot. Hawke's wife and kids are not only clueless to these private screenings in the man's office, but it takes them most of the movie to even realize that their new house was the home of the same slain family who are the subject of the book that the author is writing. Along the way, an uncredited Vincent D'Onofrio helps out via iChat by filling in the mythology surrounding a certain goth rocker, whose silly visage makes appearances in each one of the 8mm films (some of which were supposedly filmed as recently as 2011 -- figure that one out).
On the plus side, the picture sports decent production quality -- and it does feature professional actors, so it has that going for it. When it comes down to it, Sinister is stuck between silly and serious -- and it really needed to sway more in one direction than the other to make this scare ride soar.