Vic’s Review – “Sinister” (2012)


What’s it About?

A true-crime writer finds a cache of 8mm home movies films that suggest the murder he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose career dates back to the 1960s.


Directed by Scott Derrickson

By Vic

“Sinister” is directed by Scott Derrickson who helmed “The Day the Earth Stood Still” remake and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”  It was written by Derrickson and C.Robert Cargill. It stars Ethan Hawke (Explorers, Daybreakers) as Ellison Oswalt, a struggling true crime writer who relocates his family to a house where a family was murdered and a child went missing.  He does so in order to get his groove back since he’s been riding the success of a prior novel called “Kentucky Blood” for a long time and needs a new hit. His wife, Tracey, played by the very gifted Juliet Rylance, is reluctant and feels that all the moving from home to home is wearing the family thin.

His son Trevor (Micheal Hal D’Addario) suffers from night terrors and his daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) dislikes being in a new town and likes to paint on her bedroom walls. Even the local Sheriff, who thinks his moving into the house is in bad taste, dislikes him being in the town. Seems like the Sheriff  (Fred Dalton Thompson) has some issues with how Oswalt portrays constables in his true crime novels. Once settled in the house,  Ellison sets up his office and starts to go through some old Super 8 film reels he finds, mysteriously, in the attic. Then all the very eerie and dreadful things start to happen.

“Sinister” in all fairness does not break any new ground but Derrickson, with the help of Hawke, carefully crafts a haunted house film (that uses the now often repeated conventions) that works in weaving a mystery while building suspense and dread. It was pretty refreshing watching and getting involved in the story which is part “CSI” and part “The Shining.” (Throw in some “Stir Of Echoes” too).

Hawke is quite brilliant in this genre outing and very energetic as we take this other-worldy and dizzying journey with him into what happened to all the families that were murdered. Then we  begin to get genuinely creeped out. Add to that his kid having night terrors, thumping noises in the attic, a film projector that starts by itself, phantom rottweilers and strange images on the super 8 film and his laptop.

Derrickson brings it all to the table but the movie always remains interesting and we never want to project ahead and try to telegraph the ending.  Oswalt gets deeper and deeper into the horrific mystery and he becomes obsessed with solving the murders and drinks heavily. He recruits the help of a Deputy (Named Deputy So and So by Oswalt) played by the eager and comedic James Ransone. The Deputy becomes his only link to sanity and the closet thing to a friend during Ellison’s ordeals.

The mystery ignites Oswalt’s descent into trying to accept the supernatural and when Tracy finds out about the house she has a meltdown and they argue in a very extended scene between them that is very well performed. More stranges noises, ghostly apparitions running throughout the house. A College Professor played excellently by a bearded Vincent D’ Onofrio helps Oswalt piece the murders together and reveals that an evil entity named a “Bughuul” may be behind the grisly events. The Prof. believes, from Oswalt showing him some cult images, that it may be a cult initiation. Oswalt believes otherwise.

Without going more into the plot and the story I will definitely recommend “Sinister” solely on the the performance by Hawke but the film delivers much much more. The effective musical score by horror vet Christopher Young  (Drag Me To Hell, Spider-Man 3) is very strange, other-worldy and primal here. It becomes a menacing character on it’s own utilizing disembodied voices to creep us out totally. The Camerawork by DP Chris Norr (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is dark (Hawke never turns a light on) and absorbing. The house is shot tightly and with forced menace.

The story and direction are spot on as well. “Sinister” delivers mood, atmosphere and even the occasional “jump scare” but it never panders and stays intelligent and surreal. It unfolds nicely and the ending is bizarre, intense and even brutal.  And let’s not forget another new creepy ass demon entity! The best haunted house flick since “Insidious” Enjoy gang, recommended!


    • you should. Hawke really fuels the movie. it’s incredible how good he is in a horror flick. enjoy it!

  1. Great write-up, Vic. I like how you said that the score becomes a character on its own, and I agree with that. Sort of like The Overlook Hotel in The Shining, don’t you think?

    • Exactly! I like how you think, Daniel. It’s rare that a score gets so integrated into a movie and gets into your brain. Like Psysho, Jaws and Halloween. Glad you liked the review! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Cant wait to see this and your review has gotten me even more excited. It looks like this will deliver, much as Insidious did !

  3. I have been curious about this movie. Ethan Hawke us usually in watchable fare. Emily Rose was good, Earth Stood Still had it moments, it had some promise, but turned out crappy. I’ll get around to seeing this, but I have a feeling it will be uneven. 8 out of 10 seems like a little generous, I mean that hideous sweater Hawke is sporting ought to drop that grade down some.

    • Ha! He wears that sweater throughout the whole movie. I gave it an 8 because I believe that Hawke and Derrickson worked hard to elevate the material above most of the haunted house fare we have been getting and for not making this a found footage flick. Thanks for stopping by, man!

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