Sinister (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Produced by Jason Blum
Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
Written by Scott Derrickson
C. Robert Cargill
Starring Ethan Hawke
Juliet Rylance
Fred Thompson
James Ransone
Clare Foley
Michael Hall D'Addario
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Christopher Norr
Edited by Frédéric Thoraval
Distributed by Summit Entertainment (USA)
Momentum Pictures (UK)
Icon Productions (Australia)
Release dates
  • March 11, 2012 (2012-03-11) (SXSW)
  • October 5, 2012 (2012-10-05) (United Kingdom)
  • October 12, 2012 (2012-10-12) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[1]
Box office $77.7 million[2]

Sinister is a 2012 slasher and supernatural horror film directed by Scott Derrickson and written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. It stars Ethan Hawke as fictional true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt who discovers a box of home movies in his attic that puts his family in danger. Sinister premiered at the SXSW festival, and was released in the United States on October 12, 2012, and in the UK on October 5, 2012.

A sequel, entitled Sinister 2 has been announced and is scheduled to be released in the United States on 21 August 2015.


The film opens with Super 8 footage depicting a family of four standing beneath a tree with hoods over their heads and nooses around their necks. An unseen figure saws through a branch acting as a counterweight, causing their deaths by hanging.

Months later, washed-up true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves into the murdered family's home with his wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), and their two children, 7-year-old Ashley (Clare Foley), an artist who is allowed to paint on her walls, and 12-year-old Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario), who begins re-experiencing bizarre night terrors upon moving into the home. Only Ellison is aware that the house they are moving into was the crime scene. Ellison intends to use the murders as the basis for his new book, and hopes that his research will turn up the fate of the family's fifth member, a 10-year-old girl named Stephanie who disappeared following the murders.

Ellison finds a box in the attic that contains a projector and several reels of Standard 8 mm footage that are each labeled as innocent home movies. Watching the films, Ellison discovers that they are actually snuff movies depicting families being murdered in various ways: being drowned in their pool (Pool Party '66), being burnt to death in a car (BBQ '79), being run over by a lawn mower (Lawn Work '86), having their throats slit in bed (Sleepy Time '98), and the hanging that opened the movie (Family Hanging Out '11). The drowning film proves especially disturbing for Ellison after he notices the face of a demonic figure watching the drownings from the bottom of the pool. Ellison eventually finds the figure observing the murders in each of the films, along with a strange painted symbol; inspecting the lid of the box containing the films, Ellison discovers childish drawings depicting the murders, along with crude sketches of the demonic figure, identified as "Mr. Boogie."

Consulting a local deputy (James Ransone), Ellison discovers that the murders depicted in the films took place at different times, beginning in the 1960s, and in different cities across the country. He also learns that some of the families were drugged before being killed; and that a child from each family went missing following every murder. The deputy refers Ellison to a local professor, Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio), whose expertise is the occult and demonic phenomena, to decipher the symbol in the films. Jonas tells Ellison that the symbols are that of a pagan Babylonian deity named Bughuul (Nick King), referred to as Mr. Boogie, who would kill entire families and then take one of their children into his realm in order to consume their souls.

One night, Ellison spots Bughuul outside in bushes and rushes outside, armed with a baseball bat, only to find Trevor, having experienced yet another night terror and rushes him back inside. Ellison returns outside to retrieve his bat when he encounters a rottweiler and attempts to grab his bat. The dog sees the missing children standing behind Ellison, causing the dog to flee out of fear. The second night, Ellison hears a noise within the home and, again armed with his bat investigates, being plagued by the missing children in various states of decay. After Ellison checks in on Ashley and leaves, Stephanie is shown in front of Ashley, having painted her family's murder with Bughuul. The third night, Ellison hears the film projector running and goes up to the attic. There, he finds the missing children watching one of the films. Bughuul suddenly appears on camera before physically appearing before Ellison. Ellison takes the camera and the films to the backyard and burns them. His recently awakened wife meets him outside and he tells her that they're immediately moving back to their old house.

At his old home, Ellison receives a message from Professor Jonas, who sends him scans of historical images associated with Bughuul; each drawing had been partially destroyed by the early Christians, who believed that images of demons served as a gateway for them to come from the spiritual realm to the mortal world. Ellison discovers the projector and films in his attic, along with a new envelope of film labeled "extended cut endings". During this time, the deputy tries calling several times, but Ellison never answers. The next time the deputy calls, while Ellison is assembling the films, he finally answers. The deputy informs him that he has discovered a link between the murders: every family had previously lived in the house where the last murder took place, and each new murder occurred shortly after the family moved into their new residence; by moving, Ellison has placed himself and his family in the "timeline of events" and puts his family in line to be the next victims.

Ellison watches the footage. He finds that it depicts the missing children coming onscreen following each murder, revealing themselves to be the killers, apparently under Bughuul's possession before suddenly disappearing. Before he can react, Ellison becomes light-headed and upon inspection of his coffee cup he finds a note reading "Good Night, Daddy" before losing consciousness. Ashley appears behind Ellison, revealing herself to be the drugger, under Bughuul's possession, likely contracted from her encounter with Stephanie. Ellison awakens to find himself, his wife and his son bound and gagged. Ashley approaches holding the 8 mm camera, and promises him that she will make him famous again. Ashley then murders her family with an axe, using their blood to paint images of cats, dogs and unicorns on the walls. Her work complete, Ashley views the Super-8 film of her murders, which concludes with an image of the missing children watching her. Bughuul appears, causing the children to flee. He lifts Ashley into his arms and disappears into the film with her.

The film concludes with an image of the box of films in the Oswalt family's attic, now accompanied by Ashley's reel, labeled "House Painting '12". The camera slowly pans away from the box, until Bughuul appears onscreen before the screen cuts out.



Writer C. Robert Cargill says that his inspiration for the movie came from a nightmare he experienced after seeing The Ring, in which he discovered a film in his attic depicting the hanging of an entire family. This scenario became the setup for the plot of Sinister.[3] In creating a villain for the film, Cargill conceptualized a new take on the Bogeyman, calling the entity "Mr. Boogie". Cargill's idea was that the creature would be both terrifying and seductive to children, luring them to their dooms as a sinister Willy Wonka-like figure.[4] Cargill and co-writer Scott Derrickson ultimately decided to downplay the creature's alluring nature, only intimating how it manipulates the children into murder. In further developing Mr. Boogie, the pair had lengthy discussions about its nature, deciding not to make it a demon but rather a pagan deity, in order to place it outside the conceptual scope of any one particular religion. Consequently, the villain was given the proper name "Bughuul", with only the child characters in the film referring to it as Mr. Boogie.

In crafting a look for Bughuul, Cargill initially kept to the idea of a sinister Willy Wonka before realizing that audiences might find it "silly" and kill the potential for the film becoming a series. Looking for inspiration, Derrickson typed the word "horror" into flickr and searched through 500,000 images. He narrowed the images down to 15, including a photograph of a ghoul which was tagged simply "Natalie". Cargill was particularly struck by "Natalie" and decided: "What if it's just this guy?". He and Derrickson contacted the photographer and purchased the rights to use the image for $500. Derrickson explained that the image appealed to him because it reminded him of the makeup and costumes worn by performers in black metal, while remaining unique enough so as not to be directly linked to the genre; Derrickson had previously researched black metal while looking for inspiration for Bughuul's symbol, which is ritualistically painted at the scene of each of the film's murder sequences.[4][5]

Shooting for Sinister began in autumn of 2011, after Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance signed on to star in the film.[6] The super 8 segments were shot first, using actual super 8 cameras and film stock, in order to maintain the snuff films' aesthetic authenticity.[7] Principal photography took place on Long Island. In an interview with Bleeding Cool, screenwriter Cargill admitted that Ethan Hawke's character got his name (Ellison Oswalt) from writer Harlan Ellison and comedian/writer Patton Oswalt. Cargill keeps books by both men on his shelves.


First revealed at the SXSW festival in the United States, Sinister premiered in the United Kingdom at the London FrightFest and in Spain at the Sitges Film Festival.[8][9]

Critical response[edit]

Sinister received generally positive reviews and has a score of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 132 reviews with an average rating of 6.2 out of 10.[10] The critical consensus states "Its plot hinges on typically implausible horror-movie behavior and recycles countless genre cliches, but Sinister delivers a surprising number of fresh, diabolical twists."[11] The film also has a score of 53 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 30 critics indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[12]

Variety praised the movie as "the sort of tale that would paralyze kids' psyches".[13] stated that Sinister was a "deeply frightening horror film that takes its obligation to alarm very seriously".[14] Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars, calling it "an undeniably scary movie."[15] E! named it the best horror film of 2012, citing the film's soundtrack and subversion of contemporary horror tropes.[16]

CraveOnline called the film "solid" but remarked that the film "doesn't quite go to the next level that gets me like an Insidious",[17] and IGN praised the film's story while criticizing some of Sinister's "scream-out-loud moments" as lazy.[18]

Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek wrote,

For the most part, Sinister is about its protagonist's growing obsession. Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still) appears to be deeply influenced not just by the horror genre (most obviously The Shining) [but also] by such films as Michael Mann's Manhunter, Joel Schumacher's 8 mm, and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation. Like the main characters of those films, Ellison becomes consumed by a mystery, and spends long periods of time engrossed in the pursuit of the truth – like us, he's repulsed by what he sees, but can't quite bring himself to look away.[19]

Reviewer Garry McConnachie of Scotland's Daily Record rated the film 4 of 5 stars, saying, "This is how Hollywood horror should be done... Sinister covers all its bases with aplomb."[20]

Lambie, rating the movie 3 of 5 stars, says that despite its "faults, there's something undeniably powerful about Sinister. Hawke's performance holds the screen through its more hackneyed moments, and it's the scenes where it's just him, a projector, and a few feet of hideous 8 mm footage where the movie truly convinces. And while its scares are frequently cheap, it's also difficult to deny that Sinister sometimes manages to inspire moments of palpable dread." The reviewer for Time Out London granted only 2 out of 5 stars, saying, "This so-so, occasionally effective horror film combines found-footage creepiness and haunted-house scares – but is stronger on mood than story."[21]

Some reviewers have criticized the film's preoccupation with dead media. Peter Howell of The Toronto Star (who gave the film 2 out of 4 stars) argues that the movie tries for "old school shocks" but "can't afford a pre-Internet setting." [22] Newsday's Rafer Guzman's review claims that "celluloid is such a warm, friendly old format that it seems unlikely to contain the spirit of, say, a child-eating demon.".[23] Academic study of the film, however, tends to view Sinister's representation of both old and new media formats as a study in transmediation.[24]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on February 11, 2013, in the UK and February 19, 2013, in the US[25] with two commentaries (one with director Scott Derrickson and another with writer C. Robert Cargill). The release also included two new features (True Crime Criminals and Living in a House of Death) as well as a featurette on the Sinister Fear Experiment performed by Thrill Laboratory in celebration of the film's theatrical release.


Main article: Sinister 2

A sequel was announced to be in the works in March 2013, with Scott Derrickson in talks to co-pen the script with C. Robert Cargill, but not to direct.[26] On 17 April, 2014, it was announced that Ciaran Foy will direct the film, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Charles Layton, Xavier Marchand and Patrice Théroux will executive produce the sequel with eOne Entertainment.[27] The film is set for release on 21 August, 2015.


  1. ^ Kaufman, Amy (2012-10-11). "'Taken 2,' 'Argo' in tight race for No. 1 at weekend box office". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Interview: Sinister Writer Cargill Screen Geek
  4. ^ a b "How Sinister Brought Mr. Boogie to Life". Fearnet. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  5. ^ How Internet Art Inspired the Monster in Ethan Hawke's Sinister
  6. ^ Scott Derrickson's Untitled Found Footage Film Gets a Sinister Title Dread Central
  7. ^ Sinister: Scott Derrickson on Horror... and Travis Smiley
  8. ^ FrightFest '12 UK Genre Fest Announces Full Line Up; Record 48 Films! 'V/H/S' 'Sinister' 'American Mary' 'Under the Bed' & More! Bloody Disgusting
  9. ^ Sitges 2012 line-up includes Maniac, The Tall Man, Sinister and The Possession!
  10. ^ "Sinister". Rotten Tomatoes (Flixster). Retrieved June 19, 2014. 
  11. ^ Sinister Rotten Tomatoes
  12. ^
  13. ^ Review: Sinister Variety
  14. ^ SXSW Review: Sinister
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (2012-10-10). "Sinister Movie Review & Film Summary (2012)". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  16. ^ Eight Reasons Sinister is the Best Scary Movie of the Year
  17. ^ SXSW Review: Sinister CraveOnline
  18. ^ Sinister Review IGN
  19. ^ Lambie, Ryan (Sep 25, 2012). "Sinister review". Den of Geek. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  20. ^ McConnachie, Garry (Oct 2, 2012). "Movie review: Sinister". Daily Record. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  21. ^ Johnston, Trevor (Issue October 2–8, 2012). "Sinister (2012)". Time Out London. Time Out (company). Retrieved October 10, 2012.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Sinister DVD/Blu Ray release USA". Retrieved February 24, 2013. 
  26. ^ Wakeman, Gregory (Mar 4, 2013). "'Sinister' Sequel Announced". The Inquisitor. Retrieved August 11, 2013. 
  27. ^ "'Sinister 2' Moving Ahead With 'Citadel' Director". The Hollywood Reporter. April 17, 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 

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