Sinister (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Produced by
Written by
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Christopher Norr
Edited by Frédéric Thoraval
Distributed by
Release date
  • 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
110 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Canada
Language English
Budget $3 million[2]
Box office $77.7 million[3]

Sinister is a 2012 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.

The film, a co-production between the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, 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, Sinister 2, was released in the United States on August 21, 2015.


The film opens with Super 8 footage depicting a family of four standing beneath a tree with sacks over their heads and nooses around their necks. An unseen figure pulls at a rope attached to a partially sawed-through branch of the tree, causing their deaths by hanging.

True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) moves into a 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 suffers from night terrors. The local sheriff pays a visit, indicating his dislike of Ellison and his career; his books have often criticized law enforcement for mistakes. 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 Trevor in a box, naked and screaming, having experienced another 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 innocent home movies. Ellison discovers that the films are actually murder footage depicting different families being murdered in various ways by an unseen person holding the camera. Ellison notes the appearance of a mysterious symbol in the films as well as a strange masked figure. Consulting a local deputy (James Ransone), Ellison discovers 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 (Vincent D'Onofrio), whose expertise is the occult, to decipher the symbol in the films. Jonas tells Ellison that such symbols are that of a Pagan Babylonia deity named Bughuul (Nick King), who would kill entire families and then take one of their children in order to consume his/her soul, leaving the symbol behind.

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 the films outside and burns them with petrol, his wife meets him outside and he tells her that 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, including the symbol seen in the murder movies; the images have been partially destroyed by the early Christians, who believed that images of Bughuul served as a gateway for the demon to come from the spiritual realm to the mortal world; children who saw the images of Bughuul could be possessed and even abducted into the images.

Ellison discovers the projector and films (from the previous house) in his attic, along with an envelope of film labeled "extended cut endings", the deputy calls and informs him 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 light-headed, and notices a bright green liquid mixed with his coffee in the cup, along with a note reading "Good Night, Daddy" under the cup before losing consciousness. Ashley appears behind Ellison, revealing herself to be the drugger, under Bughuul's possession. Ellison awakens to find himself, Tracy and Trevor bound and gagged on the floor of the parlour next to the lit fire. Ashley approaches filming him with the 8 mm camera. Ashley then decapitates Ellison with an axe before killing Tracy and Trevor off screen, using their blood to paint images of cats, dogs and unicorns on the walls. 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 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". Bughuul then appears and the screen 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;[4] 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.[5]

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.[5][6]


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.[5][6] 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.[7]


Principal photography for Sinister began in autumn of 2011, after Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance signed on to star in the film.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10][11]


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.[12][13]

Critical response[edit]

Sinister received a score of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 134 reviews with an average rating of 6.2 out of 10.[14] 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 will direct the film, and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Charles Layton, Xavier Marchand and Patrice Théroux will executive produce the sequel with eOne Entertainment.[31] The film was released on August 21, 2015.


  1. ^ "SINISTER (15)". British Board of Film Classification. July 6, 2012. Retrieved July 27, 2015. 
  2. ^ Kaufman, Amy (2012-10-11). "'Taken 2,' 'Argo' in tight race for No. 1 at weekend box office". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  3. ^ "Sinister (2012) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved March 24, 2017. 
  4. ^ Interview: Sinister Writer Cargill Screen Geek
  5. ^ a b c "How Sinister Brought Mr. Boogie to Life". Fearnet. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  6. ^ a b How Internet Art Inspired the Monster in Ethan Hawke's Sinister
  7. ^ Sinister: The "Other" Soundtrack. The End of Summer.
  8. ^ Scott Derrickson's Untitled Found Footage Film Gets a Sinister Title Dread Central
  9. ^ McIntyre, Gina (October 13, 2012). "‘Sinister’: Scott Derrickson on horror … and Tavis Smiley". Retrieved March 24, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Exclusive: Sinister Deleted Scene". CraveOnline. 19 February 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  11. ^ W. Scott Poole (21 February 2013). "Evil on Film: 'Sinister'". PopMatters. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  12. ^ FrightFest '12 UK Genre Fest Announces Full Line Up; Record 48 Films! 'V/H/S' 'Sinister' 'American Mary' 'Under the Bed' & More! Bloody Disgusting
  13. ^ Sitges 2012 line-up includes Maniac, The Tall Man, Sinister and The Possession!
  14. ^ "Sinister". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 19, 2014. 
  15. ^ Sinister Rotten Tomatoes
  16. ^ "Sinister". Retrieved March 24, 2017. 
  17. ^ Review: Sinister Variety
  18. ^ SXSW Review: Sinister
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (2012-10-10). "Sinister Movie Review & Film Summary (2012)". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  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 (Oct 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". Retrieved February 24, 2013. 
  30. ^ Wakeman, Gregory (Mar 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 2014-04-17. 

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