Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Scott Derrickson|
|Music by||Christopher Young|
|Edited by||Frédéric Thoraval|
|Box office||$77.7 million|
Sinister is a 2012 American 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 grain-sacks over their heads and rope-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.
Months later, true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan 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 camera moves and the tree with the partially sawed-through branch comes into view, revealing to the audience that this house is the one where the Stevenson family was murdered in the opening scene.
Only Ellison is aware that the house they are moving into was the scene of a crime. He 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.
That night, during dinner, Ellison and his family talk about the book. Later that night, while Ellison is working, he hears noises but it is revealed that it is just Ashley, unable to find the bathroom. Later that night Ellison discovers Trevor in a box, naked and screaming, having experienced another night terror. He carries him back inside.
Ellison finds a box (along with a black scorpion which terrifies him) 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 snuff films depicting different families being murdered in various ways by an unseen person holding the camera. The families are being tied to sunbeds and drowned in their pool (Pool Party '66), being bound and gagged and burned to death in a car (BBQ '79), being run over by a lawn mower (Lawn Work '86), being bound and gagged and having their throats slit in bed during the night (Sleepy Time '98), and the hanging from the opening of the film (Family Hanging Out '11).
The drowning film is especially disturbing for Ellison when he notices the face of a demonic figure watching the drownings reflected in the pool's surface. The figure turns to face the camera and Ellison pauses the film. He stares at the image for a few moments but the celluloid film catches fire and burns away.
He repairs the remainder of film as best he can but is left with only a blurry profile of the figure's face as the clearest views of it have been destroyed by the fire.
Ellison after re-watching all the movies, eventually finds the same demonic figure from the drowning film throughout all the films, watching the murders along with the same strange painted symbol as was illustrated on the hood of the car in "BBQ '79" and in various other places throughout the films (such as the wall of the upstairs level in "Sleepy Time '98"). Ellison phones 911, but when the operator asks several times how she can help him, Ellison ends the call and broods over what he has just seen.
Ellison is once again concentrating on the content of the films when he hears footsteps running along upstairs. He ignores it at first as he thinks it will be his children going to the bathroom. However, when the lights go out in whole the house, he goes upstairs to investigate with a torch from his mobile phone and a kitchen knife. He goes up through the loft hatch and over to a box-lid which is moving across the floor by itself. Upon inspecting the lid a large corn-snake slithers out and away in to the rafters. On inspecting the lid of the box, Ellison discovers childish drawings depicting the murders along with crude scribbles of the demonic figure labelled "Mr. Boogie". He hears creaks coming from the other corner of the loft and walks over to investigate before he gets there he falls through his attic floor.
Consulting a local deputy (James Ransone), Ellison discovers that the murders depicted in the films took place at different times, beginning in the 1960s and in different cities across the country. He also learns that some of the families were drugged before being killed, and that a child from each family went missing following every murder.
The deputy refers Ellison to a local professor, Professor Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio), whose expertise is the occult and demonic phenomena, symbols and paraphernalia to decipher the symbol in the films. Professor Jonas tells Ellison that the symbols are that of a Pagan Babylonia deity named Bughuul (Nick King), who would kill entire families and then take one of their children into his realm in order to consume his/her soul, leaving the symbol behind as a clue. As the deputy calls Ellison to give him information on the families murdered, a paused image of Bughuul turns to Ellison but returns to its regular position before he notices. After reviewing the footage he filmed on his mobile phone during the time he was in the attic and as he fell through the floor, he catches a strange frame. Reviewing the footage, he witnesses many ghostly children's hands grabbing him whilst falling.
One night, Ellison hears noises from the garden and goes to the window with a flashlight and a found image of Bughuul that he was carrying before he heard the noise. Ellison holds up the image to the bushes and realises the shrubbery in the image is identical to the ones in his back garden. Putting the image down reveals Bughuul standing in his bushes and Ellison rushes outside, armed with a baseball bat. However he only finds Trevor, having experienced yet another night terror and carries him back inside, where Tracy rushes down the hallway to help, having heard the noises and wonders what is happening. Ellison returns outside into the dark garden to retrieve his bat when he encounters a black Rottweiler. The missing children suddenly appear behind Ellison in a white glowing light, causing the dog to flee out of fear. Ellison does not see the images. The next night, Ellison hears a noise within the home and investigates, again armed with his bat but the missing children (whose faces are badly rotted) follow him throughout the house but when he hears them, they run out of sight, causing Ellison to believe he is going mad. After Ellison checks in on Ashley and leaves, Stephanie is seen to be hiding next to Ashley's bed, painting on the wall: her family's hanging with Bughuul watching.
The following night, Ellison hears the film projector running and goes up to the attic. There, he 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. The projector, box and film reels are thrown down the ladder, while the noises stop and the attic lights are turned off. Ellison takes the camera, projector and the films to the backyard and burns them with petrol. His recently awakened 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 Professor Jonas, who sends him scans of historical images associated with Bughuul (including the symbol seen in the snuff 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; the images include the symbol from the murders along with a scorpion, a snake, (matching what he found in the attic) and a black beast. According to Professor Jonas, people, especially 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 a new envelope of film labeled "extended cut endings". During this time, the deputy tries calling several times but Ellison declines his calls. The next time the deputy calls, while Ellison is assembling the films, he finally answers. The deputy informs him that he has discovered a link between the murders: every 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 (Stevenson family had lived in the same house in St. Louis where the Miller family had their throats slit. Miller's lived in Orange County house where the 1986 lawn massacre occurred. The Orange County family lived in Sacramento house where the Martinez family was burned to death in their own car and their previous home was the location of the 1966 Oregon drownings). By moving, Ellison has placed himself and his family in line to be the next victims.
Ellison fixes the extra film to the original reels and watches the footage, and finds that it depicts the missing children coming onscreen following each murder, revealing themselves to be the killers, apparently under Bughuul's possession, before suddenly disappearing. Before he can react, Ellison becomes light-headed, and upon inspection of his coffee cup, he notices a bright green liquid mixed with the coffee and finds 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 in their old house next to the lit fire.
Ashley approaches filming him the 8 mm camera and promises him that she will make him famous again. Ashley then decapitates Tracy with an axe before going on to kill Ellison and Trevor, using their blood to paint images of cats, dogs and unicorns on the walls. With her work complete, Ashley views the Super-8 film of her murders while drawing the murder in the lid of the home movies box (matching the earlier drawings.) The film concludes with an image of the missing children staring into the camera. Bughuul appears, causing the children to flee in fear. He then lifts Ashley into his arms and disappears 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". The camera slowly pans away from the box, until Bughuul appears onscreen and the screen cuts out.
- 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
- Victoria Leigh as Stephanie Stevenson / Family Hanging Out Girl
- Cameron Ocasio as BBQ Boy
- Ethan Haberfield as Pool Party Boy
- Danielle Kotch as Lawn Work Girl
- 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.
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 snuff films' aesthetic authenticity. 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 received a score of 62% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 132 reviews with an average rating of 6.2 out of 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 3 out of 4 stars, calling it "an undeniably scary movie." 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 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.
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."
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." 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.
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 will direct the film, and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Charles Layton, Xavier Marchand and Patrice Théroux will executive produce the sequel with eOne Entertainment. The film was released on August 21, 2015.
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