R (disturbing violent images, terror); 109 minutes.
A true-crime author stumbles onto something beyond his beat in Scott Derrickson's Sinister, which follows Ethan Hawke's Ellison Oswalt as he grows increasingly obsessed with a missing-girl case that he hopes will lead to a bestselling book. Occasionally stupid (stretching even fright-flick conventions) but scary nonetheless, it should please horror fans.
When Oswalt's wife (Juliet Rylance), just uprooted to a new town (so he can investigate the new story) and already getting bad vibes from neighbors, asks "We didn't move a few doors down from a crime scene again, did we?" he assures her they didn't. She asked the wrong question: Oswalt has bought the very house in which four members of a family were slain, with the fifth abducted. Setting aside Oswalt's infuriating unwillingness to turn on the lights when homicidal intruders infiltrate his home at midnight, the movie has him doing some pretty unjustifiably dumb things -- like walking with a butcher knife thrust in front of him when he has every reason to think his sleepwalking young son might suddenly leap out at him.
The scares are effective throughout, helped a good deal by Christopher Young's glitchy electronic score. While the end clearly points toward a possible franchise, though, many of the ingredients that make Sinister compelling wouldn't make sense a second time around. Some of them barely hold up for the first.
-- John DeFore,