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 true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) whose discovery of Super 8 home movies depicting grisly murders found in the attic of his new house puts his family in danger.
|Directed by||Scott Derrickson|
|Music by||Christopher Young|
|Edited by||Frédéric Thoraval|
|Box office||$87.7 million|
Sinister was inspired by a nightmare co-writer C. Robert Cargill had after watching the 2002 film The Ring. Principal photography on Sinister began in Autumn of 2011 with a production budget of $3 million. 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. 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 (most notably the lawnmower scene) and horror cliches. The film was a box office success, grossing $87.7 million against its budget of $3 million. 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 son, Trevor, and their daughter, Ashley. Ellison moved into a home where a family was murdered and intends to use their case as the basis for his new book. He hopes his research reveals the fate of the Stevenson family's fifth member, Stephanie, who disappeared following the murders.
Ellison finds a box in the attic that contains a projector and several reels of Super 8 mm footage, each labeled as home movies. The films are footage depicting the murder of different families in various ways, including hanging (Family Hanging Out ‘11), drowning (Pool Party ‘66), throat-slitting (Sleepy Time ‘98), hit and run with a lawnmower (Lawn Work ‘86), and arson (BBQ ‘79). Each murder is performed by an unseen person holding the camera. Ellison notes the appearance of a mysterious symbol and a strange, ominous figure in the films.
One night, Ellison investigates noises in the attic and discovers childlike drawings that depicts the murders, with the strange figure called "Mr. Boogie" standing next to the victims. Ellison consults a local deputy and discovers that the murders in the Super 8 footage took place at different times and in different cities across the country dating back to 1966. Ellison also learns that a child from each family went missing following every murder.
The deputy refers Ellison to Professor Jonas, who specializes in the occult, to decipher the symbol in the films. Jonas says such symbols refer to an ancient and obscure pagan deity named Bughuul, who would kill entire families and take one of their children to consume their soul slowly. Jonas suspects the murders are part of a cult initiation rite, rather than the work of a single person stretching across decades.
Ellison hears the film projector running and finds the missing children seated in the attic watching one of the films. Bughuul appears on camera before physically appearing before Ellison. Ellison takes the camera, projector, and films outside and then burns them. He tells Tracy that they are moving back to their old house.
At his old home, Ellison receives a video call from Jonas who sends him scans of historical images associated with Bughuul, including the symbol 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 Bughuul can possess children who come into contact with these images. Ellison discovers the unharmed projector and films in his attic, along with a new film labeled "Extended Cut Endings”.
The deputy calls Ellison and informs him that every murdered family had previously lived in the house where the last murder took place. He also learns from Professor Jonas the pattern: each new murder occurred shortly after the family moved from the crime scene into a new residence (it is revealed that the Stevenson family lived in St. Louis, Missouri where the Miller family murders occurred before moving to Chatford, Pennsylvania). By moving, Ellison has placed himself and his family in line to be the next victims. The new footage depicts the missing children coming onscreen following each murder, revealing themselves to be the killers under Bughuul's influence.
Ellison becomes lightheaded and notices a green liquid at the bottom of his coffee mug, along with a note from Ashley that says, "Good night, Daddy," before losing consciousness. He awakes to find himself, Tracy, and Trevor bound and gagged on the floor. Ashley, under Bughuul's possession, approaches them while filming with the 8 mm camera. She tells her father that she will make him "famous again", and proceeds to murder her family with an axe. She then uses their blood to paint pictures on the house walls, along with Bughuul's symbol on a door.
Ashley 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 film but flee when Bughuul appears. He lifts Ashley into his arms and teleports into the film. The box of films is seen sitting in the Oswalt family's attic, now accompanied by Ashley's reel titled House Painting ‘12.
- Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt
- Juliet Rylance as Tracy Oswalt
- Fred Thompson as Sheriff (credited as "Fred Dalton Thompson")
- James Ransone as Deputy So & So
- Clare Foley as Ashley Oswalt
- Michael Hall D'Addario as Trevor Oswalt
- Vincent D'Onofrio (uncredited) as Professor Jonas
- Cameron Ocasio as BBQ Boy
- Blake Mizrahi as Christopher Miller / Sleepy Time Boy
- Nick King as Bughuul / "Mr. Boogie"
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. 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.
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. 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.
Principal photography for Sinister began in autumn of 2011, after Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance signed on to star in the film. 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. 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.
Sinister has an approval rating of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 153 reviews, with an average rating of 6.23/10. 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." The film also has a score of 53 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 30 critics, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.
Variety praised the film as "the sort of tale that would paralyze kids' psyches". Film.com stated that Sinister was a "deeply frightening horror film that takes its obligation to alarm very seriously". Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars, criticizing a few obvious horror tropes but praising Hawke's performance and calling it "an undeniably scary movie." Peter Paras of E! named it the best horror film of 2012, citing the film's soundtrack and subversion of contemporary horror tropes.
CraveOnline called the film "solid" but remarked that the film "doesn't quite go to the next level that gets me like an Insidious", and IGN praised the film's story while criticizing some of Sinister's "scream-out-loud moments" as lazy.
Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek gave the film three out of five stars, and wrote 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."
Some reviewers have criticized the film's preoccupation with outdated technology. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star (who gave the film two out of four stars) argues that the movie tries for "old school shocks" but "can't afford a pre-Internet setting." 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." Academic study of the film, however, tends to view Sinister's representation of both old and new media formats as a study in transmediation.
A 2020 study conducted by broadbandchoices named Sinister the scariest film among the 50 highest-rated horror films according to sources such as IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and Reddit, based on the highest average heart rates of 50 viewer participants.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on February 11, 2013, in the UK and February 19, 2013, in the US 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. 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. The film was released on August 21, 2015.
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