HT Schuyler: Sinister Review

Posted: October 13, 2012 by htschuyler in HT Schuyler's Movie Reviews

Rated 14A for violence, disturbing images and strong terror.

Directed  by: Scott Derrickson.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson and James Ransone.

Sinister tells the terrifying tale of a true-crime novelist who moves into a new house that previously hosted the grisly murder of the family that use to live there. As old Super 8 film is discovered that depicts horrifying murders with an even more horrifying twist, soon things start getting darker and darker until the novelist is plunged into a shocking psychological journey of violence and horror. So, is Sinister simply a repeat of an old premise that has been washed and repeated time and time again, or does it breathe new life into the genre and satisfy the horror needs of even the toughest of horror fans?

Ethan Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a once famous novelist desperately trying to regain his fame with his new book, about a disturbing murder that happened in his new house. Upon searching the house he discovers a box of old Super 8 films in his attic, which he eagerly watches, hoping to gain valuable information for his new book. Soon Ellison realizes that each tape depicts the disturbing murder of a family, each film sharing in common a terrifying link to a figure who he later finds out is a Pagan Deity named Bughuul. The deeper Ellison searches for answers the worse things get as his son Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) has night terrors causing him to act bizarrely, his daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) starts talking to the missing daughter of the previous family and his relationship with his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) becomes strained and endangered. Ethan Hawke plays a troubled but likable protagonist, one that may annoy you at first but over time you really start to like and care about him. His motivations make sense, and you see that his quest to regain his fame has made him careless and willing to go to extreme lengths just to get content for his novel, not caring who he jeopardizes while doing it. When his character does eventually change it seems genuine, and his motives work in the logic of the story. Juliet Rylance plays a good parallel to that, debating Ellison’s motives and feeling his work is making him unreasonable and paranoid. The other real character to have enough screen time to make much of a difference is James Ransone as a local deputy who is a big fan of Ellison’s work. He provides mostly comic relief, but it actually works really well, and provides a good change of pace after a really intense or scary scene, and Ransone delivers the comic dialogue well and acts as a good mediator between the dramatic and comedic scenes.

The Good:

As I’ve often said, the highest praise I can give a horror movie is saying that it honestly and whole-heartedly scared me.  So, does this praise apply here? Yes. Because Sinister is scary as shit. The film excels on its tension, making something as simple as a ladder look terrifying and ominous, using simple sounds and an eerie soundtrack to really get under your skin and mess with your head. There are a few jump scares here and there, but luckily they don’t take away from the film and are usually pretty effective. There are some genius long take shots, drawing out the suspense and keep you frantically looking around the screen searching for the next big scare to pop out or maybe a face in the background. The story itself is also very well written and planned out, creating a whole mythology for the fictional deity Bughuul, but really selling it and making him seem real. The Super 8 films that Ellison finds are also horrifying. Every time Ellison starts watching a film you’re just waiting for the crazy shit to start happening, and once it does, it’s unrelenting. The movie would be so intense at times that I would wish that the comedic scenes would last longer, just to prolong the inevitable terror that the next scene would ensure. I also praise the film for keeping the audience interested and involved despite it using a very minimal amount of sets. In fact almost the entire film takes place in just the one house, but it never gets boring as you’re so swept up and involved with the story. It’s a common occurrence in horror films that characters seem unnatural and don’t act like real beings, but here the writing is very realistic and each character seems real and believable. The writing is very clever and smart, making the film interesting and fluent psychologically as well as visually. Another thing I really need to give the movie credit for is the fact that it had the balls to show violence. Sinister is, in theory, a very violent film, but not in an exploitative way. It shows violence when it needs to, and cuts away when it needs to, and it isn’t afraid to do some pretty nasty stuff. This movie doesn’t rely on violence to be shocking, but let’s just say it doesn’t hurt it.

The Bad:

While my flaws for this film are limited, unfortunately they are still present. As a horror movie, it has an obligation to, well, try to be scary. Having this obligation means that we are introduced to certain elements in the film that are solely there just to provide a cheap scare or a brief moment of suspense. For example, we are told that the son Trevor has frequent night terrors, which cause him to walk around the house at night and randomly scream and such. Now, the film utilizes this plot point to provide some pretty scary scenes, but ultimately this sub-plot doesn’t go anywhere, and you realize that yes, it was only there to have some scary scenes. Now I normally don’t mind this, but this sub-plot aside Sinister is a smart enough film that it really didn’t need this. A minor annoyance that I had was that for the most part, most of the scares come from appearances of Bughuul, who looks utterly horrifying, but at a certain point in the film this character sort of gets pushed aside for a different type of terror, and it isn’t anywhere near as scary as Bughuul, so it would have been nice if they had just kept him as the main antagonist. It also didn’t help that most of the scare scenes with Bughuul are shown in the trailer…damn marketing. My biggest problem with this movie is (surprise surprise) one I can’t talk about; the ending. The entire movie makes it seem like it’s building up to one terrifying conclusion, but the one it gives us is very unsatisfying. This ending normally would have been fine if they had maybe hinted that it was going to turn that way, but as it stands it just comes off as a lazy afterthought.

In Conclusion:

Despite what may seem like a fair amount of flaws, I actually loved the shit out of this movie. Hands down the best horror movie I’ve seen all year and probably the best horror film I’ve seen since Insidious. Director Scott Derrickson and writer Robert C. Cargill should be proud; they’ve created a terrifying horror experience that will stay in its audience’s head long after the movie is over, and will keep me from going in my attic for a long, long time.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review HT. Didn’t scare the pants off of me like I was expecting, but still had a nice couple of chills and thrills to be effective enough, especially for a horror movie.

  2. Good review, H.T. Sounds like this one is doing surprisingly well among reviewers.

  3. r361n4 says:

    Good review, I actually did expect the end to happen that way but mostly because a lot of similarities I noticed between Sinister and The Woman in Black, which is coincidentally the last horror movie I’d seen before this. In any case, I completely agree about the Trevor thing not going anywhere, I expected it to actually be incorporated into the ending but I’ll avoid going into that w/ spoilers and all

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