PhotobucketFirst and foremost, there is a question every horror film must answer: “Is it scary?” With regards to Sinister, the reply is an unqualified yes. Sinister scared the living daylights out of me. Through a combination of mood, music and fundamentals of the genre, director Scott Derrickson has created an accomplished work inspired by Japanese horror. Our protagonist, author Ellison Oswalt, writes about true life crime. He has recently moved his wife and kids into a new home so he can investigate an unsolved murder for his new book. Not only has Ellison kept the case a secret from his family, but they remain ignorant of the fact that he has moved them into the very home where the killing took place. Soon after, Ellison discovers a box labeled “Home Movies” in the attic. Their vicious content is the subject of this tale.

The picture employs 3 plot devices that would each be scary enough on their own.  When combined, they make for an unbearably creepy narrative. The finding and subsequent viewing of these home movies, exploits a feeling of dread that proves to be most unsettling. A video record of the deaths of various families, they remain a most disturbing document of something evil. Second, children in peril is a malevolent contrivance that really adds to the rising tension. Third and finally, the summoning of a pagan god is rather frightful. Bagghul is a particularly nasty deity that we are given a history lesson on. This gives actor Vincent D’Onofrio the slightly random cameo of being the cult expert that Ethan Hawke must contact in order to make sense of what he’s experiencing.

Sinister is not a perfect film. I’ll admit, the father’s insistence on placing his family in peril and keeping them there is a far fetched basis necessary to accept in order for the story to even occur. However, the script addresses this. His last few books were unsuccessful and his family, once used to better financial times, have struggled recently. His ambition to write a bestseller upon solving the homicide of the previous occupants, consumes him. Ethan Hawke effectively portrays a man torn between protecting his family and a fervent desire to solve the mystery and achieve financial success. His motivations are much more convincing than say John Cassavetes in Rosemary’s Baby or Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Granted, there is a particularly unsavory element in uncovering a cache of what basically amounts to a collection of snuff films. Though the idea itself is pernicious, the presentation is thankfully restrained.

Sinister is rather chilling. As it details a man’s obsession to find out the truth, the narrative unfolds in a very believable fashion. Even when we the audience must take a leap of faith to stomach what this father/husband has indirectly brought upon his family, we can understand, though not condone, his motivations. By employing traditional cinematography along with the found footage of the super 8 movies he discovers, director Scott Derrickson fashions drama around a most unpleasant spirit. The grainy reels that Ellison watches late at night is eerie. The jump cutting, haphazard images combine with a truly creepy soundtrack by Christopher Young and a pastiche of dark original music by ambient music artists like Accurst and Boards of Canada. A shadowy figure, with a white triangular face and black eyes is seen in the bushes in one shot. The simple image is frightening. The whole production makes something like The Woman in Black (released last February) look like a ride on a children’s merry-go-round. Sinister is without question the scariest movie of 2012.

34 Responses to “Sinister”

  1. Excellent review, my friend! Suffice it to say, without giving away too much of my upcoming review, Sinister is the better choice over PA4.


    • I trust you on this. I really wasn’t a fan of PA3 and I’m sure I won’t enjoy another one of those films.

      t’s funny. I was going to send my “Sinister” review to you directly on Twitter, but before I could, you had already retweeted it. That is amazing. Thank you!


  2. Good review Mark. It’s a pretty freaky movie that’s more about the mood and atmosphere it creates, rather than just throwing buckets of blood and gore at the screen for a scary-effect. It’s a surprise that Scott Derrickson did this considering the guy hasn’t had the best track-record as of late.


  3. “The grainy reels that Ellison watches late at night is eerie.”

    It’s nice to read your take on it. I think you touched upon the scariest part–rather, parts–of the movie in which Hawke’s character just… watches these sick “home movies” at night for research. Every time the images were projected onto the screen, I expected something reach for him. Couple that with his investigations of random noises at night (funny how no one ever wakes up until after the fact), I cowered in my shoes.

    But what did you think about that ending (last 10 minutes)? I’m sure you know this but I hated it!!! It was an otherwise great experience.


    • I didn’t really have a problem with it. Given the premise and what we learn through the course of the film, the ending conformed to the initial setup. It wasn’t particularly innovative, true, but it satisfactorily ended the film. For a truly bad ending, see Silent House.


    • Oh I was talking about the remake. I had heard the original was better actually. I won’t be watching it though.


  4. Okay, Mark. You’ve convinced me. I think it’s a must to check this one out now. Nice review!


  5. I had hope that you were going to review this at some point. There seems to be a variety of glowing as well as scathing reviews for “Sinister”, so I guess it’s something like “Insidious” in 2012. I’m getting more and more excited about this one. Let’s hope I can go on Election Day and don’t have to wait for DVD.

    P.S.: Is this the same Ethan Hawke who was in “Dead Poets Society” and 2000’s “Hamlet”? I’m having trouble imagining him in a horror movie.


  6. Good review there Mark. You’ve sold me on this one. I’ll be bumping this up on my list now.


  7. Great review, Mark. I’ll check this one out after reading your post. It’s in theaters over here as well.


  8. martin250 Says:

    Great review. very creepy story . on a side note, do you think that Ethan Hawke is an underrated actor? i thought he was great in Gattaca and pretty good inTraining Day.


  9. This was one of the most disturbing horror films I’ve seen in a long time.


  10. Great review, Mark. I’ve never been a fan of the horror genre, but this really intrigues me. Insidious was more creepy than scary but I enjoyed it in the main. Many horror film trailers put me off for purely being extremely predictable in themselves – perhaps this is the exception.


    • I’d have to admit that most horror films are somewhat predictable. There’s a routine to how people get scared. Sinister is no exception. But it still is very very creepy.


  11. Such a great review Mark as usual 🙂 I haven’t seen it yet but I’ve heard nothing but praise for this film. A lot of people are comparing it with Insidious, another film with good reviews overall.


  12. This movie scared me quite a bit. I was right there with Ethan Hawk for the whole ride. I agree, it had some flaws, but I didn’t care. I love being terrified by a non-gory movie.


  13. After a long hiatus, Accurst is now back on track to complete the trilogy of concept albums that started back in 2003.

    Having been featured in Sinister’s soundtrack last year, Accurst has now launched a crowd-funding campaign for an upcoming 3rd album entitled Messenger of Shadows.

    About Accurst:
    Accurst begun in late 1999 as a concept project, and in 2003 the debut, Fragments of a Nightmare, was released on Colflesh Records and distributed through Red Stream. In 2006, a follow-up album entitled A Phantom’s Noctuary was released on the now defunct Serpene Heli Music.

    In 2012, 3 tracks from Accurst’s debut album, Fragments of a Nightmare, were featured in 2012’s film, Sinister. They can be heard in the film’s perhaps most chilling moments.

    Facebook –


  14. I think this is one of my favorite horror movies ever, now. It’s that good in my opinion.


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