You horror writers must have to make a sort of Nietzschean bargain. You stare into the darkness and the darkness stares into you. Like Stephen King, you cobble together your disparate, very personal fears and build a story that will frighten strangers. You work carefully and quietly with your darlings. But things can go wrong. In Sinister, they go from strong beginnings to SLASH CRASH BLARGH. All the precious darlings are DEAD. How did this happen? It's a mystery with twist at the end.
Let's look at the victims to understand the horror. First, you have your main protagonist Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who is lovingly crafted as a "true crime" writer who may already have his best successes behind him. His is a universal fear, making it a wonderful driver for the plot. In a last-ditch effort to rekindle his career, he moves his family to a new town and home with the goal of writing a new book. His research takes a dark turn when he discovers evidence never found by the police.
_But then this pretty great setup is turned…and devoured. _Oswalt proceeds to do so many things out of character that he is no longer compelling or even sympathetic. It's as if by some dark design that your work is put down. Just as Oswalt tilts almost to the point of deserving death, he then pulls back and becomes sort of sympathetic. In the end, you feel sort of "meh" about him. Who would turn your carefully crafted hero into this cretin, this narratively dead thing? _ _
The next victim is fear itself. We are physical animals, with a highly-tuned limbic system that makes us fight or fly when we are scared. A sudden noise from the darkness can dissolve our pretense of higher-order being. This fear-trigger is the undying companion for any horror movie.
And yet, someone or something _in _Sinister methodically, mercilessly murders it. Every single time the beating soundscape and fast-paced scene cuts take a pause, it is followed by a loud surprising jump cut and loud noise. The relentless predictability turns the initial genuine terror into irritation and annoyance.
As the movie accelerates, the casualties pile up. Each one is a surprise. Japanese Horror's fear and fascination with media bludgeoned with an old-ish film projector. Who could have done this? _I wonder. _
Next it's our natural suspicion of small children, alien beings with whom we have only a passing understanding. Even they are put down, smothered by a strong controlling hand with some bad art and silly face paint. By this time, it's clear who the culprit is.
It's the director. _In his zeal to make a commercially viable and broad horror movie, he has betrayed everything interesting that his writer gave him. He has swallowed up the movie with irrelevance and annoyance. _But why? But how?
At the end, the horrifying truth is revealed: the writer and director are THE SAME PERSON! NOISE! SCREAM! SCARY FACE!