{2jtab: Movie Review}

Sinister - Movie Review

3 Stars

Taking cues from such horror heavyweights as The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby, filmmaker Scott Derrickson knows the most effective kind of terror - the kind that haunts a viewer’s mind and causes sleepless nights – comes not necessarily from the moments that try to be scary or shocking, but from the more dramatic aspects of the story.

He takes that notion, along with co-writer C. Robert Cargill, and constructs Sinister, a crafty little horror film that never quite manages to get all the horror logic right, but is, nonetheless, an effectively creepy little film.

Working from the premise that a rift in the family is a universal trigger for guttural horror, Derrickson and Cargill build their story around true-crime novelist Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a man struggling with his ego as he tries to climb back atop the pinnacle of literary achievement. Ellison found tremendous success earlier in his career and is attempting another bite of fame when he moves himself and his family into a home that was the scene of a mass murder in which the entire family was hanged from a large tree in the home’s backyard. Ellison hopes that being close to the crime scene will lead him to the next In Cold Blood. But there’s a flaw in his plan. Ellison doesn’t inform his wife Tracy (big screen newcomer Juliet Rylance) of the house’s history.

Not surprisingly, wonky stuff begins to happen in the house almost immediately, including the unexplained appearance of an old dusty box in the attic containing several reels of 8mm film and a projector on which to watch them.

Even Ellison, despite a hardened defense brought about by his years of studying crimes and the horrible people who commit them, is shocked at what he sees as the scratchy film is projected onto a draped sheet. As images of drownings, throat-slittings, burnings, and even the ritualized hanging in his own backyard flicker across the screen, Ellison begins to realize he may have gone a bit too far, especially when he notices a pale satanic figure lurking in the background of each movie clip.

Before he is able to piece together some of the common aspects of the murder that took place in his backyard and the ones revealed in the movies, Ellison’s son (Michael Hall D'Addario) begins having night terrors while his daughter (Clare Foley) paints spooky little images on the walls of her bedroom. Naturally, as his wife comes unglued when their new home’s history is revealed, Ellison begins to hit the bottle as the pressure mounts.

While Derrickson and Cargill show the necessary understanding of what makes the best kind of horror by effectively playing with what we don’t see, rather than what we do - bumps, off-kilter camera shots, and brief glimpses of things that happen just off screen - they sometimes hinder that notion by showing us a bit too much during the film’s third act. In fact, some of the money shots are held long enough we feel obligated to give the ghouls a close examination of make-up and costuming skills. Certainly not what they had intended. Additionally, the casual dialogue between family members quite often seems a bit forced and unnatural causing us to question the strength of the husband-wife relationship when that strong familial bond is needed to reinforce the story of a good man’s poor decision and the effect it has on his family.

And then there’s the stupid-people-making-boneheaded-moves-in-horror-movies problem. This movie is full of them. A man’s belief that he can conquer the biggest of the night’s demons with a swig of whiskey, a flashlight, and a baseball bat is frequently reinforced. But even so, there’s enough good stuff in there, including plenty of frightening atmosphere strengthened by a menacing score that often mimics the clackety-clack of a vintage 8mm projector, for the film to rise above its shortcomings. As the credits roll, and we slowly peel our white-knuckled hands from the armrests, we realize that Sinister works in spite of its many flaws.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Sinister - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent images and some terror.
110 mins.
: Scott Derrickson
Writer: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Ethan Hawke; Juliet Rylance; Clare Foley; Michael D'Addario; Vincent D'Onofrio
: Horror
Once you see him, nothing can save you.
Memorable Movie Quote: "This could be my col"
Summit Entertainment
Official Site:
Release Date: October 12, 2010
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 19, 2013

Synopsis: Sinister is a frightening new thriller from the producer of the Paranormal Activity films and the writer-director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who discovers a box of mysterious, disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Sinister - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Blu-ray Disc
3 Stars
3 Stars
Blu-ray Experience
3 Stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 19, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English, English SDH, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); BD-Live; Blu-ray 3D

This film’s purely digital production displays a surprising versatility throughout its MPEG-4 AVC encoded picture. That may have something to do with the intercutting of reproduced Super 8 footage, amongst the new lustre of modern cameras, but there is a dimension and detail within that often is missing from modern horror of this era. Blacks are very inky, and sometimes large swatches of the picture are purely black, but that is surely a cinematography choice, as opposed to a fault in the transfer. Flesh tones are natural and the dour ominous palette of the film is rich with subtleties. This is a really good looking movie. Sound is a flawless 7.1 DTS-HD audio track that’ll have you leaping from your couch more than once. This may be one of the best uses of surround for ‘effect’ this reviewer has seen, with richly layered sound and terrifying noises haphazardly dancing from left to right, front to rear without prediction and to awesome results. Special features include a decent, director-centric audio commentary, and some fairly brief and unimpressive featurettes on true crime writers and how realtors market houses where murders have been committed. Meh.



  • Feature-length audio commentary with Director Scott Derrickson
  • Feature-length audio commentary with Writers Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill

Special Features:

  • True Crime Authors (9:16)
  • Living in a House of Death (11:32)
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Scott Derrickson (4:55)

{2jtab: Trailer}