There are three ways to generate scares in a horror film: smart writing, a creepy filming style or an interesting creature. The better these elements, the better the film.
"Sinister" fails on all three counts.
Let's start with the writing. Ethan Hawke, who once had a promising acting career, plays true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt. He's so hungry to regain the fame and fortune he had with a major best-seller 10 years ago, he's willing to move his family into a house where the previous tenants were hung from a tree in the backyard.
The screenplay by director Scott Derrickson is so thin that the majority of the painfully long movie is spent watching Oswalt walk up and down the halls of his new home. At least 30 minutes of the movie is him hearing a noise, going to that spot, finding nothing, then hearing another noise.
There's also a huge chunk of time spent with Oswalt watching home movies of the previous owners being killed -- along with some other related gruesome deaths. The repeated showing of the home movies is not scary and instead is mostly torturous for the audience.
Derrickson is equally uninspired with the way the movie is shot. Most of the scenes are so dark, there's no concern for the characters. What's more of a confusion is why they just don't turn on a light.
Even the setting is blasé. Houses in horror films need to have character and a lot of nooks and crannies for ghouls to play. The house in "Sinister" looks like a model home -- from its very geometric design to the lack of decorations. There's no sense that anyone actually lives in the house.
Derrickson switches from standard styles of filming to hand-held shots for no apparent reason. Derrikson's choice of shots is as random as his character's long walks through the bland house.
Then there's the creature. Eventually, the story stumbles to rather traditional horror film elements. Revealing too much about the instruments of all this destruction would create major spoilers. It's just an appalling way to try to create an emotional connection to what is basically a lifeless story.
And the closest thing to a scare is when Derrickson has the creature jump into a scene accompanied by a loud sound. Yes, it startles. But being startled and being scared are not the same.
Failures on all three levels makes "Sinister" a forgettable mess.
"Sinister," rated R for language, graphic violence. Stars Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D'Addario. Directed by Scott Derrickson. Running time: 110 minutes. Grade: D-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.