Sinister (2012) review

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Synopsis: A crime writer prepares to take on his newest case by moving into the house of a family murder and child abduction. When he discovers a box of video reels in his attic, he begins to realize that there’s something far more… Sinister… at play.

When I first saw Sinister several years ago, I absolutely loved it. I’m a big Ethan-Hawke-in-horror fan anyway, and I loved him in The Purge as well (yeah, I’m one of those.) I recently rewatched and figured I’d refresh my views and share them on my site as well.

Sinister is essentially yet another scary kids movie, but the interesting thing about it is that you don’t really get that until the very end. In an interesting twist on the sub-genre, we don’t have scary kids jumping out at us at every turn, but instead a legitimately tense slow-burn movie that generally doesn’t use the kids for cheap scares. The plot itself is horrifying, as we become the party to a murder modus operandi that goes back thousands of years, wherein a family is murdered and their youngest child is abducted. We are told that the monster behind these slayings spreads itself through visual records of the events and that by playing the reels, he’s actually being brought to life.

Now, there were several jump scares, but they were genuinely scary at times – though this was one of the OG’s in the “using loud music randomly to scare the shit out of moviegoers” crowd of movies, which quickly became overused and irritating. However, that damn kid in the box still gave me chills when he popped out, even on a second viewing.

Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt - Image Credit: Momentum Pictures

Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt – Image Credit:

Ethan Hawke stars as the crime writer Ellison Oswalt, a cop-antagonizing fame-whore who is after his next big release, “his In Cold Blood.” He has had several misses and moves into the house of a brutal family murder to jumpstart his career. Of course, he doesn’t tell his wife Tracy (played by the delightfully British Juliet Rylance) or kids, leaving them to find out the details on their own to horrifying results.

I absolutely loved what this film did with the home movies. Displaying fun family outings intercut with horrific scenes of killings, we’re treated to several films-within-a-film throughout Sinister’s runtime, which, to me, were absolutely the best parts of this film. They were incredibly well done, some of them being downright shocking (I especially jumped out of my seat at the lawnmower one.) It provided a nice variety to the scares in a film where there’s little to no actual killing on screen. What we’re left with is a film that is tense and foreboding, with the action taking place in the past instead of the present day for the most part.

Sinister was brilliant in its simplicity, taking the killer-kids subgenre to new heights. We know there’s something wrong because someone has to be filming these vignettes, and everything about them is done in childish handwriting and drawing, but we’re not completely sure who the culprits are until the end. “Mr. Boogie”, who is actually the demon Bughuul, is scary as hell and manifests himself in several dark corners throughout the film. And the films themselves… holy crap, they scared me. As a family man with two kids myself, I… don’t really wanna think about which one of my children would off me if given half the chance.

I view Sinister as a member of the “early 2010’s trilogy” that included Insidious and The Conjuring. All three were styled very similarly, with Sinister being the first of the bunch. All three lead the charge of movies that people are still talking about from this time period, and when people are discussing, it’s often in a “which of the three did you like the best” sort of way. Sinister wasn’t my favorite (I generally thought The Conjuring was a better flick), but it was very effective and, for an extremely minimal use of actual gore, compellingly terrifying. All in all, a legitimate contender for the early part of the decade’s scariest movie.