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'Sinister' Review: Horror Hodgepodge as Creepy as Intended

'Sinister' Review: Horror Hodgepodge as Creepy as Intended

This movie really did creep me out, bless its scabby little head.

“Sinister” is a deft assemblage of genre ready mades–haunted house, slasher, found-footage–bound together in an atmosphere of bleak portents that sometimes recalls “The Shining,” among other, admittedly better, films.

What sets it apart from less-enterprising fright flicks is its disturbing imagery. Some of this can be glimpsed in the trailer: the eerie sight of four bound and hooded figures hanging limply from an improvised backyard gallows; the squirming terror of another group of people, tied down on poolside recliners, as they’re pulled by ropes into the water to drown. I won’t go into the gardening horror (yikes!), but you get the idea–this stuff stays with you.

Since any movie of this sort is by definition implausible, it helps to have a star who can anchor the awful proceedings in an appealing, down-to-earth style. Ethan Hawke–the beleaguered idealist of “Training Day,” the personable swain of “Before Sunset” and “Before Sunrise”–is just the man for the job. Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime writer whose one bestseller is 10 years behind him. Desperate for another hit, Oswalt has found a promising new case to write about–the unsolved lynching of an innocuous family in small-town Pennsylvania. (An added attraction: one of the dead family’s children, little Stephanie, has never been found.)

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