Ethan Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a successful crime author whose last book was a hit and garnered him a lot of hatred from folks surrounding the murders. Desperate for another hit book, Ellison moves his family in to the house where a vicious murder was committed in hopes of finding out why the family was murdered, and where their daughter Stephanie disappeared to. The explanation that he moves them in to the house where the murders ensued should be a clue that Ellison isn’t very smart. Hawke is a very good performer capable of conveying desperation and torment, but he’s given the task of turning Ellison in to an empathetic protagonist. Which is tough considering the more we know about Ellison the less likable he is, and when the screws finally turn on him, we’re not too saddened by it.
This is a man whose son suffers horrible night terrors, and moves his family in to a house where murders took place. This is a man who rather than discovering the legend of the monster said to be haunting his victims, he instead relies on a fame hungry deputy willing to tell him anything to get in his book, and a professor who admits to Ellison he could barely find any information on the demonic symbols that appear before the victims died. Ellison begins researching old super 8 films that he found in his attic that inevitably lead him in to discovering that within the films themselves lurks a demonic entity that either wants to be found by him or by someone else in the house. It’s never made clear to the audience, really. Is the demon taunting Ellison by showing him the films if we’re told the demon ultimately possesses children? “Sinister” drudges up so many questions and never quite answers them.
And if it does, it’s all with fuzzy cryptic riddles that never clarify anything for the audience. I’m sure the producers have a Sinister part two and three planned, so I assume any answers will be handled in the second and third films. “Sinister” is definitely atmospheric, and I loved how the demon Mr. Boogie was able to figure out a way to get in to our world through the inherent love for voyeurism and shock value. I also enjoy how the found footage elements are injected subtly, with footage that’s both disturbing and eerie to witness. I was just not scared, so much as I was uneasy. And I couldn’t help but ask so many questions while the film kept moving along regardless of inconsistencies. If we’re told that the demon needs pictures and or film to enter in to our world, what is the symbol for? Is it his calling card? Is he challenging anyone to defeat him like Pazuzu did to Lankaster Merrin in “The Exorcist”?
And what does happen if you burn images containing the demon Buguul? You’re telling me Ellison buys a house for very cheap and convinces his wife to move and she never asks why he was able to afford such a beautiful house on a steal? And we’re told the entire town is still healing from this horrible murder and yet the wife is never filled in on what happened in the house? As for Mr. Boogie, what is his goal ultimately? Does he just want children? Does he want children of a specific age? Does he murder the families as a sacrifice? And to what end? Does it make him more powerful? Does a certain number of murders make him a God? Does he possess the children or eat them? Does he eat their souls or their entire bodies? Can the demon shift through just film, or can he go through video, digital, or any kind of image?
And what did it do to accomplish its tasks before the advent of motion film? Are the children its assistants or its hostages? Were the children trying to warn Ellison or lead him to the footage? Why haven’t the police ever explored the footage for themselves or at least seized it for evidence? I would be lying if I said I’d definitely like to learn more about Mr. Boogie, because when director Derrickson finally does unveil the monster, he looks like a deformed rock star, long hair and all. Truthfully, I garnered more chills watching Mr. Boogie in obscure shapes and shadows on the Super 8 footage, and it’s utterly uneven when director Derrickson displays such restraint for most of the story only to pull down the curtain and reveal the monster hiding in the shadows in full regalia. There’s an excellent horror movie lurking in “Sinister” somewhere, and I hope the eventual sequel realizes what the first film really couldn’t. In its own right, it’s atmospheric, just not very memorable or scary.