Sinister (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byScott Derrickson
Produced by
Written by
Music byChristopher Young
CinematographyChristopher Norr
Edited byFrédéric Thoraval
Distributed by
Release date
  • March 11, 2012 (2012-03-11) (SXSW)
  • October 12, 2012 (2012-10-12) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$3 million[2]
Box office$87.7 million[3]

Sinister is a 2012 supernatural horror film directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson. The film stars Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Thompson, and Vincent D'Onofrio. The plot revolves around fictional true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt, whose discovery in the attic of his new house of a box of home movies depicting grisly murders puts his family in danger.

Sinister was inspired by a nightmare that co-writer C. Robert Cargill had after watching The Ring (2002).[4] Principal photography began in Autumn of 2011 in Treasure Lake, Du Bois, Pennsylvania[4] with a production budget of $3 million.[2] To add the authenticity of old home movies and snuff films, the Super 8 segments were shot on actual Super 8 cameras and film stock.[5] The film was a co-production between the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The film premiered at the SXSW festival. It was released in the United States on October 12, 2012, and in the UK on October 5, 2012. Sinister received positive reviews, praising the acting, direction, music, cinematography, and atmosphere, but received some criticism for its use of jump scares and horror cliches. The film was a box office success, grossing $87.7 million against its budget of $3 million.[3]

The film's financial success spawned a sequel, Sinister 2, released in the United States on August 21, 2015.


True crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves into a home with his wife Tracy, their 12-year-old son Trevor, and their 7-year-old daughter Ashley. Ellison has moved his family (unbeknownst to them) into a home where a family was murdered, all hanged by ropes on a tree in the backyard. Ellison intends to use the case of the murdered family as the basis for his new book and hopes that his research will reveal the fate of the Stevenson family's fifth member, a 10-year-old girl named Stephanie who disappeared following the murders. Later that night Ellison discovers in a box a screaming, half-naked Trevor having a night terror.

Ellison finds a box in the attic that contains a projector and several reels of Super 8 mm footage that are each labeled as home movies. Ellison discovers that the films are actually murder footage depicting different families being murdered in various ways, including drowning, throat-cutting, and arson. Each murder is performed by an unseen person holding a camera and filming the killings. Ellison notes the appearance of a mysterious symbol in the films as well as a strange masked figure. Consulting a local deputy (whom Ellison nicknames "Deputy So & So"), they discover that the murders took place at different times, beginning in the 1960s and in different cities across the country. He also learns that a child from each family went missing following every murder. The deputy refers Ellison to Professor Jonas, whose expertise is the occult, to decipher the symbol in the films. Jonas tells Ellison that such symbols refer to a Babylonian deity named Bughuul, who would kill entire families and then take one of their children in order to consume their soul.

One night, Ellison hears the film projector running and finds the missing children seated in the attic watching one of the films. Bughuul suddenly appears on camera before physically appearing before Ellison, causing him to fall off the ladder. Ellison takes the camera, projector, and films outside and burns them with lighter fluid. His wife meets him outside, and he tells her they're moving back to their old house immediately. At his old home, Ellison receives a video-message from Jonas, who sends him scans of historical images associated with Bughuul, which include the symbol seen in the murder movies; early Christians believed that images of Bughuul served as a gateway for the demon to come from the spiritual realm to the mortal world, and children who come into contact with these images can be possessed.

Ellison discovers the unharmed projector and films in his attic, exactly as he did in the new house, along with an envelope of film labeled "Extended Cut Endings". Deputy So & So calls and informs Ellison that every murdered family had previously lived in the house where the last murder took place, and each new murder occurred shortly after the family moved from the crime scene into their new residence. By moving, Ellison has placed himself and his family in line to be the next victims.

The extra footage depicts the missing children coming onscreen following each murder, revealing themselves to be the killers, before suddenly disappearing. Ellison becomes lightheaded and, before losing consciousness, notices a bright green liquid mixed with his coffee in the cup, along with a note reading, "Good Night, Daddy". Ellison awakens to find himself, Tracy, and Trevor bound and gagged on the floor. Ashley, under Bughuul's possession, approaches them, filming with the 8 mm camera, and murders them all on camera with an axe, using their blood to paint pictures on the house walls along with Bughuul's symbol on a door. Ashley then views the film of her murders while drawing the murder in the lid of the home movies box. The missing children stare at her through the camera but flee when Bughuul appears. He lifts Ashley into his arms and teleports into the film with her. The box of films is seen sitting in the Oswalt family's attic, now accompanied by Ashley's reel, labeled "House Painting '12". Bughuul suddenly jump scares the screen until it cuts to black.




Writer C. Robert Cargill says that his inspiration for Sinister 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[7][8]


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.[7][8] Some of the background music for these murder sequences was taken from ambient tracks by bands associated with the Norwegian black metal scene, including Ulver and Aghast.[9]


Principal photography for Sinister began in autumn of 2011, after Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance signed on to star in the film.[10] The super 8 segments were shot first, using actual super 8 cameras and film stock, in order to maintain the aesthetic authenticity of home-shot super 8 footage.[5] Principal photography took place on Long Island. In an interview with Bleeding Cool, screenwriter Cargill admitted that 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.[citation needed]

Angela Bettis played the role of a next-door neighbor in the film, though her scenes were deleted and her character is not present in the final product.[11][12]


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.[13][14]

Critical response[edit]

Sinister received a score of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 151 reviews with an average rating of 6.25/10.[15] 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."[15] The film also has a score of 53 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 30 critics indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[16]

Variety praised the film as "the sort of tale that would paralyze kids' psyches".[17] stated that Sinister was a "deeply frightening horror film that takes its obligation to alarm very seriously".[18] Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars, calling it "an undeniably scary movie."[19] E! named it the best horror film of 2012, citing the film's soundtrack and subversion of contemporary horror tropes.[20]

CraveOnline called the film "solid" but remarked that the film "doesn't quite go to the next level that gets me like an Insidious",[21] and IGN praised the film's story while criticizing some of Sinister's "scream-out-loud moments" as lazy.[22]

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.[23]

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."[24]

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."[25]

Some reviewers have criticized the film's preoccupation with outdated technology. 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."[26] Rafer Guzman of Newsday wrote that "celluloid is such a warm, friendly old format that it seems unlikely to contain the spirit of, say, a child-eating demon."[27] Academic study of the film, however, tends to view Sinister's representation of both old and new media formats as a study in transmediation.[28]

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[29] 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.


A sequel was announced to be in the works in March 2013, with Derrickson in talks to co-write the script with Cargill, but not to direct.[30] On April 17, 2014, it was announced that Ciaran Foy would direct the film, and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Charles Layton, Xavier Marchand and Patrice Théroux would executive produce the sequel with eOne Entertainment.[31] The film was released on August 21, 2015.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "SINISTER (15)". British Board of Film Classification. July 6, 2012. Retrieved July 27, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Kaufman, Amy (October 11, 2012). "'Taken 2,' 'Argo' in tight race for No. 1 at weekend box office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Sinister (2012) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Archived copy". screengeek. Archived from the original on November 11, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ a b McIntyre, Gina (October 13, 2012). "'Sinister': Scott Derrickson on horror … and Tavis Smiley". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  6. ^ Interview: Sinister Writer Cargill Screen Geek
  7. ^ a b c "How Sinister Brought Mr. Boogie to Life". Fearnet. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  8. ^ a b How Internet Art Inspired the Monster in Ethan Hawke's Sinister[dead link]
  9. ^ Sinister: The "Other" Soundtrack. The End of Summer.
  10. ^ Scott Derrickson's Untitled Found Footage Film Gets a Sinister Title Dread Central
  11. ^ "Exclusive: Sinister Deleted Scene". CraveOnline. February 19, 2013. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  12. ^ W. Scott Poole (February 21, 2013). "Evil on Film: 'Sinister'". PopMatters. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  13. ^ FrightFest '12 UK Genre Fest Announces Full Line Up; Record 48 Films! 'V/H/S' 'Sinister' 'American Mary' 'Under the Bed' & More! Bloody Disgusting
  14. ^ Sitges 2012 line-up includes Maniac, The Tall Man, Sinister and The Possession!
  15. ^ a b "Sinister". Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  16. ^ "Sinister". Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  17. ^ Review: Sinister Variety
  18. ^ SXSW Review: Sinister
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 10, 2012). "Sinister Movie Review & Film Summary (2012)". Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  20. ^ "Eight Reasons Sinister Is the Scariest Movie of the Year". Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  21. ^ SXSW Review: Sinister CraveOnline
  22. ^ Sinister Review IGN
  23. ^ Lambie, Ryan (September 25, 2012). "Sinister review". Den of Geek. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  24. ^ McConnachie, Garry (October 2, 2012). "Movie review: Sinister". Daily Record. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  25. ^ Johnston, Trevor (October 2, 2012). "Sinister (2012)". Time Out London. Time Out (magazine). Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  26. ^ "Sinister review: Mr. Boogie, meet scarier Mr. Google". The Star. Toronto.
  27. ^ "'Sinister' review: Snuff stuff". Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  28. ^ "Sinister Celluloid in the Age of Instagram – Marc Olivier". June 26, 2014. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  29. ^ "Sinister DVD/Blu Ray release USA". Archived from the original on March 1, 2013. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  30. ^ Wakeman, Gregory (March 4, 2013). "'Sinister' Sequel Announced". The Inquisitor. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  31. ^ "'Sinister 2' Moving Ahead With 'Citadel' Director". The Hollywood Reporter. April 17, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2014.

External links[edit]