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This one was described to me as “pants-shittingly” scary and I’m happy to report that I emerged from the experience high and dry. But it’s not a flop, either. Despite some really uneven pacing, Sinister registers on the high-voltage jump-scare meter, though you can see most of them coming a mile away.

True-crime author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) recklessly moves his wife and two children into a house where a family murder/suicide took place in the not-too-distant past so he can write a book about it. (Frankly, this is another case of the protagonist being such a selfish prick that all the bad things that happen subsequently can be laid at his stupid feet. He doesn’t even bother to tell his rather dim wife about the house’s history till it’s far too late.) He discovers some disturbing home movies in the attic and begins to piece together the biggest story of his career—ritual serial killing that dates back several decades, with the killer(s) in thrall to an obscure Babylonian deity named Bughuul.

The pacing problems in Sinister I refer to earlier can be attributed to way, way too many scenes of Oswalt wandering through his house at night. Sometimes something happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But I felt like writer/director Scott Derrickson’s (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) decision to spend three-quarters of the movie skulking around in low light waiting for the scary face to emerge, wasn’t the most inspired. The lack of contrast in scene after scene becomes an irritant.

Still, the occult concept is well-executed and profoundly creepy as Oswalt slowly comes to the realization that his ego has caused him to step foolishly into an inescapable trap—even as he can’t help but be impressed by its horrible shape and grandeur.

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