Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a writer on a mission. Determined and dedicated, he launches himself head first into a new project that will, not only recapture his glory days, but also provide unlimited financial security for his family who he has taken along for the ride. The problem is, his last major success, �Kentucky Blood� was a decade ago. The best seller that sat proudly in pole position in the book sales chart (as he sat proudly on comfy chairs while doing the TV talk show circuit) was due to his true crime investigation actually uncovering some facts that the police originally omitted. His work eventually led to the killers being brought to justice.

Needless to say, law enforcement agencies nationwide are not as enthused about his revelatory work as his fans, and this is the exemplified when he moves to a small Pennsylvanian town to research unsolved case. The quadruple hanging of a family (as depicted in the opening frames of the movie), is bizarre enough, but the fifth member, the youngest daughter, is still missing.

In previous projects Ellison would move into the town to get a feel for his subject. But on this occasion, he relocates his family into the actual house whose adjoining back yard was the scene of the insidious event. The ambitious father and husband is playing a dangerous game from the start. Not only does the local sheriff believe his new abode is in bad taste, his and wife and kids have no inclination as to the abhorrent history of their new home � yet!

But as Ellison sets up his office, he discovers an innocuous looking box containing some old film reels. But these are no regular family movies. They are in fact a POV motion diary, not only of the very events he is investigating, but also of some other almost ritualistic murderous acts.

Although the footage is undeniable repugnant, Ellison views it through dollar tinted glasses. Is this the key to that one last big score he craves? Or will it open a gateway to his own family�s descent into Hell...?

I purposely veered away from reading too much about a new movie SINISTER that was promised by some corners to "Leave you shaking". But one thing that did filter through my defences was the vague suggestion that SINISTER was a �found footage� picture. Yes there are recovered reels of film within the movie, but it�s rather erroneous to slap the dreaded FF branding on this picture. The distinctive whir of the super 8 projector is a far cry from the self-indulgent camcorder filmed �reality TV wanna be� drivel that features in so many of Blair Witch clones. The visual documents are apparently created by the killer (or killers) and were not just excuses to shock the audience with pseudo snuff footage. They fed brilliantly into the plot at every appearance.

The movie had a grinding pace to start with. It was very concerned with deliberately structuring the characters and painting the panorama of the narrative before attempting unleash any scares on the audience. To be fair it achieved this well. By time Ellison rolls the first home movie, a fragile poise has already been struck regarding the quandary of personal ambition vs. being a parent. The plausibility of this dilemma kept the movie grounded and gave it some depth in which to plant its demonic seeds.

I felt the most terrifying aspect was how the movie exposed the vulnerability of families with have children. Seeing a demon in the dead of night can be a hallucination or merely a trick of the mind. But observing your own child�s night terrors reduce them to a delirious contortion crawling out of a box backwards (ok ok it was clearly reminiscent of Regan�s infamous �spider shuffle� but I liked it!) is undeniably horrific.

That said, there was still a liberal infusion of jumps and scares to keep the heart rate of the viewer sprinting throughout. I hope the DVD release will translate the audio as effectively as the cinema did as there were some delightful sound separation in the rear speakers to accentuate those unnerving and anonymous clanks as darkened lofts are explored! Staying with the audio for a minute, Christopher Young�s bass ridden and hypnotic musical score was relentlessly haunting and added to the movies mysterious tone.

Hawke holds the movie together brilliantly. Given his obvious, sometimes pitiable, cravings for success (especially when feebly masking it with "I am doing it for the family"), he could so easily have been perceived as a despicable individual. But his enthusiasm was infectious. It was not like he was taking part in a diamond heist!

He was simply pursuing his career, albeit to the extreme. The more embroiled he got in his findings the more susceptible he became the malevolence of the story.

So bottom line is, does the movie live up to the hype? Is it really the modern day classic the media are building it up to be? Personally, I am loathed to honour any movie with the "C" word as I feel it is bandied about far too easily, but SINISTER certainly had the potential with so many fascinating elements to it. Hawke�s intense portrayal of Ellison�s desperate plight was engrossing throughout. It had an intriguing storyline that had an element of originality to it.

But the sudden jolts as Ellison explored the attic, for me, were a little predictable and lacking of lingering eeriness that could have crafted some apprehension for the viewer. Far more effective and, dare I say it sinister, shocks were as the reels of film were explored.

Ultimately I just felt some of it was telegraphed a little too blatantly. This definitely included the climatic twist that, although satisfying, was for me anyway, not mind blowing.

That said, it is still a highly entertaining piece of cinema that essentially has an appropriate title. Possibly due to me being a little over analytical due to writing this review, or indeed the fact I also have a young family, parts of the movie did actually revisit me later that evening. That coupled with the fact I most definitely want to take another look at the film I think is a positive recommendation for the movie in itself.

Due to its current popularity, it wouldn�t surprise me of a sequel or three were to follow in due course. Naturally, neither would it surprise me if these were a diluted version of a very fine horror movie.

Either way, after watching the original, one thing is for certain - lawn mowing at night will never be the same again....!

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by Momentum Pictures Home Ent
Rated 18