‘Sinister’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 4:11 am,

Sinister Ethan Hawke Sinister Review

Derrickson’s film succeeds in delivering an exceptionally engaging, and frightening, movie experience with quality characters, a smart story, and plenty of scares.

In his feature debut, Exorcism of Emily Rose writer/director, Scott Derrickson managed to blend compelling character drama with the overly familiar “exorcism story” – delivering a smart and disturbing film experience. Now the director is back with an entirely original horror project, Sinister, as well as a chilling new horror “monster” – Mr. Boogie.

However, in a genre that is dominated by sequels, remakes, prequels, spinoffs and other franchise cash-ins, non-franchise films often resort to established sub-genres, such as found-footage or “torture porn,” to stand out from the crowd. As a result, it’s up to moviegoers, via word-of-mouth, to support filmmakers who are trying, and succeeding, in delivering fresh scares and engaging/frightening stories. Does Sinister offer a smart and scary experience that’s worthy of your box office dollars and personal endorsement?

Yes. While certain elements of the Sinister plot are predictable, Derrickson has once again delivered a horror film that is not only creepier than most of its contemporaries, it excels with relatable characters, and a smart premise – a premise that pays off in both the larger story mythology as well as moment to moment scares. Moviegoers hoping for a bloody splatter flick might be underwhelmed by Derrickson’s preference for tension over outright violence – considering he relies heavily on creepy night sequences, grainy video footage, and the unfolding mystery around Mr. Boogie. That said, for viewers who have grown tired of the countless stock horror offerings in the genre, Sinister should provide an especially engaging and refreshingly spooky movie experience.

Sinister Movie Monster Sinister Review

Mr. Boogie and the ‘Sinister’ children

As mentioned, part of the appeal of Sinister is watching the mystery unfold – so, for anyone who is already committed to checking the film out, do yourself a favor and avoid the trailers and other potential story spoilers. However, for those who aren’t yet sold on the film, Sinister follows true life crime author Ellison Oswalt (played by Ethan Hawke) who moves his family, wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), daughter Ashley (Clare Foley), and son Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario), to a new town – so that he can write a book about a grisly family murder. The Oswalts take up residence in the deceased family’s house and Ellison begins his investigation, attempting to piece together the details of the crime, until one night he discovers a box of super 8 home videos in the attic. Though, as Ellison views the tapes over the course of several nights (each one more disturbing than the last), he begins to suspect that the murders he’s investigating are just one part in a much bigger, and more terrifying, story.

Derrickson helps ground the story’s narrative within Ellison, who routinely disregards the severity of his situation, and the safety of his family, in favor of chasing best-seller book fame. At times, the character falls into the usual horror genre tropes, investigating attic noises and dark corners of the backyard, all for the sake of spooking the audience instead of acting like a rational person. Ultimately, there’s a lot more to Ellison than his actions sometimes indicate and the personal story of a man who intentionally places his own self-interest over the people he loves adds engaging layers onto an already interesting horror set-up. Hawke offers a solid performance as Ellison – convincingly depicting the man’s unraveling charm, obsessiveness, and fear over the course of the film.

Sinister also incorporates a number of lengthy uninterrupted scenes between Hawke and Rylance that help ground the proceedings in character as well as scares – showcasing the effect that Ellison’s actions have on his personal relationships. In other horror films these moments would be melodramatic but in Sinister they’re handled with care, helping to escalate the effectiveness of the unraveling psychological horror, not just fill in space between scares. Similarly, Deputy So and So (played by James Ransone) is an equally compelling human addition and helps bring some levity to the proceedings while at the same assisting in the forward movement of the supernatural story.

Sinister Movie Ethan Hawke Sinister Review

Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt in ‘Sinister’

The scares themselves, as well as the larger mystery, are primarily revealed through a combination of the escalating disturbances in the Oswalt house and the super 8 tapes (which each depict a different grisly murder). Many filmgoers have begun to tire of the found-footage gimmick, as Hollywood continues to pump out one ridiculous application of the format after another, but the Sinister “found footage” rarely disappoints. Each film is compelling and unsettling – with plenty of variation and uniquely horrific imagery to keep viewers squirming in their seats. Similarly, unlike many horror contemporaries, each violent moment in Sinister serves a larger story purpose (not just violence for the sake of violence) – resulting some satisfying call backs at the conclusion of the film.

Not every element of Sinister is up to par and while the larger story and experience deliver, a number of individual moments borrow heavily from prior horror films and could be predictable to anyone who is paying close enough attention (or anyone has seen the film’s notable inspirations). In addition, Sinister joins the growing list of films that rely on creepy kids to do their frightening dirty work. The children admittedly deliver plenty of spooky on-screen drama but “spooky kid” moments don’t quite live up to the promise established in the larger premise.

Despite a refreshing set-up, Sinister does rely on a number of familiar horror beats and definitely takes advantage of the overused, albeit effective, “creepy children” trend in Hollywood. Nevertheless, like the 2007 indie horror film Paranormal Activity (which originally gained traction through festival screenings and word of mouth), Sinister‘s rich premise and creepy monster, Mr. Boogie, could easily spawn a string of high-profit franchise sequels. Only time will tell but, until then, Derrickson’s film succeeds in delivering an exceptionally engaging, and frightening, movie experience with quality characters, a smart story, and plenty of scares.

If you’re still on the fence about Sinister, check out the trailer below:


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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Sinister Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out the Sinister episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Sinister is Rated R for disturbing violent images and some terror. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. (EERGH. Great. I read my review again and I found another typo: it’s has to be “home videos”, not “homo videos” obviously. :$ *FACEPALM*)

    Btw: I’m really wondering if there are some other people out there who found this movie that extremely disturbing and shocking. I seem to be the only one here so far? Or am I wrong?

    • I did find the movie extremely disturbing. You know I saw it in the theater when it came out a year ago and I found it to be almost unbearably intense, as you say… I was on the edge of my seat throughout the whole movie. A couple weeks ago I saw it was on cable and even though I thought about watching it again I put it off several times until last night. I knew it was going to scare the crap out of me and I wasn’t sure I wanted go through that again. But, I’ve got this weird tradition of watching a horror movie every Christmas, how disturbing is that? Anyway I started to watch it and then had to turn on some lights in the house and then I didn’t want to keep watching it because it was so unnerving, but I HAD to keep watching it until the very end. I was glued to the TV. Hours later I had to get up and go to the bathroom and I found myself thinking about it and was scared to go back to bed. Then this morning in the light of day I could think about it objectively – and I guess my point is that I was STILL thinking about it, and am thinking about it now. Just one of those things that stay with you for a while. So, yes I am one of the people that did find it extremely disturbing and shocking. Besides the predictable cheesiness in some of the scenes (thrown in for all you cheese lovers) there was a frightening subtlety that got to me. I will definitely watch the sequel – with equal parts trepidation and glee.

  2. I’ve seen this movie twice now. It’s f@#$ing terrifying! Haven’t been scared like that in years.

  3. Includes Spoilers: I am another victim of those beneficial reviews. Been at IMDB and our favorite screenrant. What happened? After reading how OK the movie is I finally watched it. It should be my right to call it eye-rape and bring ever reviewer before a legal court to pay for my torment. Dammit, God is never willing to reshape this world for me. Amen.

    After pee-poor acting by Ethan H. in unwashed junkie style, outmatched by his rarely seen movie-wife, and actually outmatched by all others in the movie btw, we got a really numb ghost story dished. Even worse than most found-footage fakes.

    Rightfully this film could only be called the “best” horror-film of 2012 IF it would have been the only horror-movie of 2012. Even on speed-up of 10% or 20% it is a waste of time, as the entire story fits into one cell-phone SMS:

    “Incompetent, but opportunist author, who endangers his family, stumbles across a serials’ mystery, falls prey to ghost-kids, soon freaks out like a coward, and by that gets killed…”