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Halloween Movie Review #16: Sinister
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By Todd Kuhns
As a former mayor of Kirksville, Todd thinks he knows his way around the community. He graduated from Truman and worked in their IT department for 6 years. With his wife, Bich, he has renovated and operates Pickler's Famous, a community theater and ...
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As a former mayor of Kirksville, Todd thinks he knows his way around the community. He graduated from Truman and worked in their IT department for 6 years. With his wife, Bich, he has renovated and operates Pickler's Famous, a community theater and event center in a historic building downtown. He currently works from home, where his primary job responsibility is to keep from getting distracted by the internet.
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Sinister movie poster
Sinister movie poster
By Todd Kuhns
Oct. 20, 2013 5:32 p.m.

Sometimes people get a bit overzealous in their work. That would be Ellison.
Ellison writes true-crime tales, investigating cold cases and sometimes bringing the killer to justice where the police come up empty. His first book, Kentucky Blood (the name of every true-crime book ever), apparently didn’t endure him local law enforcement in Murder Town, where he’s recently moved his family to investigate his latest project: A family found hung from a tree in their backyard, with one child missing.
In a strong contender for worst-idea-of-the-year award, he figures that, in order to truly get inside the case, he should move his family into the former homestead of the victims. Without telling his wife. It’s clear Ellison hasn’t been married very long.
sinister attic discovery
Sinister wastes no time in getting things rolling. He quickly finds a box of Super 8 films and a projector in the otherwise empty attic. Not only is there a film of the murder, but there are others following a similar pattern - and each film hides a sinister face and mysterious symbol. Of course, involving the police means lost book sales, so he decides to investigate on his own. Primarily at night.
These are really just the first in a long line of stupid-decisions-that-horror-movie-protagonists-make to snake the plot through the requisite prowling and jolting. And I found the movie entirely predictable.
Yet the filmmakers succeed in building a better sense of tension than many of their peers by keeping the plot simple, the cast small, and confining the action to the house. I found the movie creepy and satisfying, with a fresh premise.
sinister still
With the ubiquity of photography today, we’re turning into a generation of voyeurs. Sinister will pull enough strings to make you uncomfortable with that. Overall, a freaky and enjoyable Halloween flick.

Now that you've watched the film...

*** SPOILERS ***
I said I found Sinister predictable. How well did you do? Let’s compare notes:
  • When they made a big deal of the girl drawing on walls in the opening 5 minutes, I knew we would find some crazy wall-painting before the film was over.
  • The moment Ellison poured his first glass of scotch, I knew it would become a reason for others to question his credibility.
  • When he stopped the projector on a frame from the film, I expected it to burn up - though, to be fair, I’m sure everyone over 35 was waiting for that moment.
  • I also knew there would be a scene when the freeze-frame face turned toward the viewer. Anticipating that moment added a considerable amount of tension for me. Extra bonus points to the filmmakers for making that happen without Ellison’s knowledge.
  • When he burned the box of goodies, I knew it would reappear back in the attic.
  • The first time Ellison’s cop friend phoned to tell him that two of the victims shared a previous address, I knew he had made himself part of this chain of events, and it was at that point that I accurately predicted the ending.
  • Shortly thereafter, I realized the missing children would be the killers, and he would eventually confront either his son or daughter. For the record, my money was on the son, so I'm really not that clever.
  • The only thing I was expecting and didn’t see: I thought for sure he would eventually stumble across a film of his own family.
    Ethan Hawke examines something
    I knew the ending could only go one of two ways. I kind of hoped he would find a way to break the cycle, but that doesn’t leave as much fodder for nightmares, does it?
    For the record, these attic movies aren't technically snuff films. A "snuff film" would be a commercial film made for entertainment purposes - such as a murder story where the actor is killed for real. To date, no snuff films are known to exist.
    But the whole Super 8 thing begs a few interesting questions:
    Why would a spirit use 20th century technology as its mechanism? You’d think Bughuul might just mysteriously transfer some video files over to Ellison’s computer. Would have saved him some trouble.
    And where do the spirits find - let alone develop - their film? I want to know. It’s nearly impossible to get ahold of Super 8 cartridges nowadays.
    sinister still

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