Write What You Know: Sinister

Main Cast: Ethan Hawke

Director: Scott Derrickson

Sinister Movie PosterI’ve wondered at times what motivates true crime writers.  With so much media sensationalism of violent crime it hardly seems necessary to rehash every sordid detail in book form.  Yet the public eats these books like candy, always hungry for one more morsel of scandal.  But what about the writers?  The 2012 horror film Sinister wants to answer my question.

Sinister is about just such a writer.  Ethan Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a true crime writer who had one big hit years prior, a book that exposed police mistakes and made him no friends in law enforcement nationwide.  His next two books were flops, and now he’s looking for another best seller, the one that will solve his financial problems and justify his self-identification as a writer.

So he has moved his family into a murder house.  Seriously.  And without telling any of them.  The case involves a murdered family and a missing child.  This idiot apparently thought that he could buy this house and his family would be fine when they discovered (from others) that an entire family had been hung from a tree still standing in the back yard.  Moron.

Motivated by money and hunger for fame (there’s the answer to my question), he accepts a box of “home movies” left in the attic detailing aspects of the crime unknown to the police and chooses not to share this disturbing information.  Falling deeper and deeper into the case and the mysterious happenings in his own home, Ellison makes increasingly poor

Ethan Hawke

Ethan Hawke

decisions and we watch as he goes from dumb to dumber.

My biggest complaint about Sinister is that the protagonist has ridiculously poor judgment upon which the plot absolutely relies.  I suppose the idea is that the villain preys upon the avarice of the writer.  Okay.  But as presented, the villain has no feeling of solidity or purpose.  The whole exercise is filled with jump scares and (mostly) implied gore but the main character is not likable and the rest are completely undeveloped.  Don’t let any descriptions fool you – Vincent D’Onofrio does not star in this movie.  His part as a local professor is so tiny that it’s hardly more than a cameo.

Hawke does pretty well with his character, considering.  His appearance devolves along with his mental state.  He starts out pretty well groomed for Ethan Hawke and ends up a bleary eyed, exhausted shell whose ambitions are destroying him.

Unfortunately, he can’t, by himself, save the movie.  Overall, Sinister is just a collection of cheap scares and a dubiously thin story that doesn’t ever come together into a satisfying whole.  2 stars out of 5, no recommendation.

photo by nicolas genin


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