Sinister goes about as far as a horror movie can with just shocking images, a good cast and outstanding sound design. But this modestly creepy blend of The Ring and The Shining whiffs on a horror film fundamental: Nobody seems that scared.
What fear there is is faced by one person, and hes VERY slow to get alarmed over the things that go bump in the night and the boogieman he thinks he catches a glimpse of, many times.
But Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime author in desperate need of a hit, doesnt tell his wife and family that hes moved them into a house that was the scene of a mass murder. He sees nothing weird in the fact that he finds old home movies of that murder (a whole family hanged) and many other murders, and the projector that will show them, all out in the open at what was a one-time crime scene.
And even as he is shocked at the images of mass drownings, group throat-slittings and immolation, and the pale satanic figure that turns up in reflections, in shadows and in the bottom of a pool in those old silent 8-millimeter movies, he doesnt recoil and flee the house where his boy has night terrors, his daughter is doing strange drawings on the wall and his wife (a fierce Juliet Rylance) wonders whats going on.
Since a lot of his noisy, plainly supernatural encounters happen in the dark of night, youd think that A) the rest of the family would be awakened by this racket unless B) this horror is happening inside his head, a la The Shining.
But logical lapses aside, Sinister telegraphs its punches, letting the viewer mentally count down the seconds until the next, obvious cheap jolt or hair-raising flicker of what is out there. We can time out how long it will be before someone a researcher comes along to explain who or what is haunting his house.
And co-writer/director Scott Derrickson forgets that what we dont see, or only glimpse, is far more frightening than trotting out things that simply cannot be and giving away the game. We see too much.