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Let me start off with a bit of disclosure here, since, considering my surroundings at Ain't It Cool News, it'd be easy to point to any positive review for SINISTER and say, "Well, that was obvious," due to the former employment of the film's writer C. Robert Cargill ("Massawyrm"). Up until I had a chance to interview Cargill and director Scott Derrickson for the film a few weeks ago, I had never met either. In fact, other than exchanging some tweets back and forth with both and a short conversation via Facebook with Cargill after I joined the Ain't It Cool ranks, where he just thanked me for helping keep the ship rolling following his departure, that's been the extent of my communication with them. I haven't been palling around with Ain't It Cool alumni who have movies coming out, and I'd hardly be what either Derrickson or Cargill would consider more than an acquaintance at this point. And I think that's an important distinction to draw here, because I wouldn't want anyone reading this to cast off my thoughts on SINISTER as some sort of friendly plug. That would be a disservice to this flick, which is an outstanding piece of horror, deserving of any and all praise that's being thrown its way. At a time when good horror is quite hard to find, Derrickson and Cargill have managed to do the genre proud with a supernatural mystery that provides well-earned scares of both the physical and psychological variety. Quite simply, SINISTER is horror done right. 

Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswald, a true crime writer whose moved his family into a former crime scene house where the brutal murder of a family occurred and a young girl went missing not too long ago. Ellison is aiming to make this horrible tragedy into the subject of his next book, looking to turn in another hit like his last big one, which happened 10 years ago. He had his taste of fame and a small fortune back then with his book on the bestsellers' list, invitations to hit the talk show circuit, fans seeking authographs, etc., and he's left to chase it with one more hit that can settle him and his family in someplace quaint for the long haul. In starting his research, with no willing cooperation from local law enforcement who is usually painted as incompetent in his writings, Ellison comes across a box of home movies all alone in the attic, and upon watching the first one, realizes that there is something horrible at play with the hanging that took place in what is now his backyard and a series of other murders that may be somehow connected.

What Derrickson and Cargill are able to do with their script though is give Ellison a credible reason to stay in that house and keep the story progressing forward. Often times, it's easy for the audience to wonder what the protagonist of a horror film is still doing around when they have ample opportunity to get the hell out of Dodge and take their family out of harm's way. But Ellison has been gifted with an understandable fatal flaw that doesn't have SINISTER jumping the shark, and as a result of the poor choices he makes stemming from that flaw, you know that things can't possibly end well for him or his family... it's just a matter of how the movie opts to get there. 

All of SINISTER relies on Hawke, who is up to the challenge of projecting a father with selfish interests who really isn't a bad guy... he's simply trying to do what's best for his family, which also happens to be what's best for him. In the wrong hands, Ellison could easily be viewed as a prick, someone putting his family's life on the line, unbeknownst to them, for his own gain. There is a bit of that to Hawke's take on the character, but there's also something particularly relatable to him. He has to make hard decisions in order to provide well for his family. It sure as hell serves him, too, but he has a legitimate justification for how it will make things better for his wife, son and daughter. 


However, what makes SINISTER incredibly frightening is watching the breakdown of a man obsessed with finding the connection between all of the movies he found against the backdrop of this creepy supernatural figured named Mr. Boogie whose very presence reeks of bad intentions. SINISTER is well-crafted with each new scene revealing a bigger piece to the puzzle, pushing that slow burn of uneasiness as to what may happen next while also committed to some well-timed jump scares that feel perfectly natural in their moments. 

Derrickson had tried to mix genres in the past with THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, which mashed a courtroom drama together with a possession film. While that film managed to do some things right, SINISTER is a much more organic fit, bringing a mystery together with a supernatural horror. They both work off similar approaches to intensity, getting your pulse going with the uncertainty of what'll be unveiled next. Derrickson is able to work off both ends, using the mystery surrounding this series of murders to drive SINISTER's story forward and Mr. Boogie to stir up the scares, then having them both meet in the middle in a position where one couldn't exist without the other. 


There's something eerie about a quiet and spacious house as it is. When you start introducing terrifying visuals as well, that's the recipe for bad things to take place. And yet SINISTER brilliantly creates a family that feels very real and puts them in the middle of this situation. You're not afraid with them. You're afraid for them, because you can see a bit of yourself in their existence. They don't do anything out of the ordinary or incredibly stupid. All of their actions are perfectly reasonable, which makes SINISTER all the more terrifying, as there's a sense that no matter what the Oswald family may have done, the actions that take place in this film couldn't have been avoided. Witnessing that sense of helplessness is a truly terrifying experience. 

SINISTER isn't a horror film that happens to be good. It's a good film that just so happens to be horror. A sound story and intriguing characters lay the groundwork for the scares to be brought to you, and whether it's jump scares or fear of the unknown that get you, SINISTER offers up something for everyone's tastes, registering it as one of the more well-rounded horror films I've seen in awhile. 


-Billy Donnelly

"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"

Follow me on Twitter.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 12, 2012, 3:02 a.m. CST

    Massawyrm no longer works at AICN?

    by Titus05

    that's a pity

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 3:04 a.m. CST

    Mr Boogie?

    by INWOsuxRED

    MR. BOOGIE???

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 3:46 a.m. CST

    Is this a remake of Mr. Boogedy?

    by Crooooooow

    Boogedy Boogedy Boo!

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 3:50 a.m. CST

    Never deal with the same real estate company that sold this house

    by No Respectable Gentleman

    Not only do they sell Ethan Hawke a house in which a whole family was hanged from a tree, but they leave the broken limb of said tree hanging loose across the backyard.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 3:56 a.m. CST

    Don't believe the hype, this is a great big MEH of a movie.

    by loafroaster

    Horror as designed by committee, not an original idea in the whole thing. Ethan Hawke does well with what he has though, so it ain't all bad.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 4:16 a.m. CST

    Mr Boogie?


    Come on man is he a ghost who does 70s dancing? That being said, I hope this movie does well. Massawyrm seemed like a good guy in his interview with Harry. It must be amazing to be successful in something you are really interested in or you love doing. That's maybe the key to happiness, or at least the foundations of happiness.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 4:17 a.m. CST

    One less reason to visit AICN

    by pearlanddean

    Massawyrm's reviews were hilarious and they will be missed, I'm disappointed to read that he's not contributing here any more. I only come here for the talkbacks now which are a rich source of amusement.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 4:48 a.m. CST

    Seen the trailer? You've seen the film!

    by SonOfTorah

    Saw this recently and if you can't guess the ending within the first 20 minutes you must be asleep. The Trailer for the film also shows you all of the best scares, and short of actually showing the final scene, gives away everything in the movie, which sucks! Don't believe the hype for this one folks, it is horror-by-numbers and NAFF.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 8:01 a.m. CST

    Hard to take seriously when you call the bad guy Mr Boogie

    by FluffyUnbound

    He does the toot sweet boogie. Boogie woogie monster from boogie woogie Massawyrm's ass.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 8:16 a.m. CST

    So we're split about 50-50 on this then?

    by JRcanReid

  • I couldn't care less that it comes from a former AICN stooge, but judging the film as a film, from a huge horror fan, there is honestly nothing much to recommend about Sinister. It'll get a certain degree online buzz from this and a couple of other friendly sites just because of who wrote it, but seriously folks, don't believe the hype. Or at the very least, seriously lower any expectations you may have. It's nice that 'Massawyrm' got a film made, good for him, but it just doesn't happen to be a very good film. At all. At least in my opinion. I'd go into it deeper, but honestly, it's not really worth the effort, which, in itself, kind of sums up my overall feelings about the film.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 8:43 a.m. CST

    Saw it last night...

    by Marcus

    It was good for a few scares but I found it really predictable. I guessed the big "twist" about a quarter through it.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 8:46 a.m. CST

    Not buying these "reviews" in the TB

    by Andrew Coleman

    They smell of jealousy. With people adding little pieces like: "Good for him" but add on "but it isn't good"... Awww boo hoo... Did your script not get picked up you poor baby? I love these TB's but they are filled with jealous babies. Also you seem full of shit if you go "The movie is terrible but I don't want to go into details about it." Right. I'm going to see it for myself and ignore these kind of obvious reviews. Also why are you seeing this movie at midnight? It came out today... So I call bull shit on most of you. I believe the comments of people who have actually seen the movie. Not the one's jealous that people get movies made.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:18 a.m. CST

    I havent seen it. i wont see it. yet I bet I can do spoilers

    by Nintendarth

    The whole thing is in Hawked head... OR IS IT??? 1?!?!? THERE ARE NO HOME MOVIES!!!!! JUST AN EMPTY BOX!!!!!!!

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:19 a.m. CST

    Am i right?

    by Nintendarth

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:30 a.m. CST

    ethan hawke and the cast elevated this big time...

    by asummerstorm

    the cast in general was great and elevated the material. i'm not a horror junkie so i can't speak to how predictable it was but it was certainly scary, as the review said, in both psychological and visceral ways. The sound design/soundtrack was really cool - all the film playbacks were gripping. as a mystery it was compelling and frightening. the problem lied in the undercooked and disappointing third act. a shitty third act has become the norm in Hollywood and i assume this is especially true for horror films since so much of them are built on the big tease. but yeah, the "twist ending" was something along the lines of a reverse deus ex machina - the resolution of the film had very little to do with the character arc of Hawke and his family.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:31 a.m. CST

    myphdisdoom, it's been out in the UK since last Friday.

    by loafroaster

    Most of the reviews seem to be pointing out the same faults namely it's very predictable and horror-by-numbers. That's got to tell you something. Also, virtually none of them are personally singling out and attacking Massawyrm. Some of them are actually giving positives. Where are you getting 'jealous babies' from? Finally, if you haven't watched it yet, why the fuck are you reading a spoiler-filled talkback?

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:43 a.m. CST


    by loafroaster


  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:49 a.m. CST

    Massawyrm, get in here

    by bluebottle

    and tell "The Kidd" that his whole "vs." schtick is stupid. Maybe then I'll believe this isn't a plug.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:55 a.m. CST

    Wikipedia spoiled it for a lot of people

    by Disgruntled_Chinaman

    The ENTIRE plot synopsis has been out for at least a week and a half. Boo.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:58 a.m. CST

    I didn't give out spoilers for two very simple reasons

    by Walton Goggins Giant Breasts

    One, as I said, I personally didn't think the film was good enough to bother going into any great deep analysis on. Two, regardless of what I personally thought about the film, I'm not the kind of person to go out of my way to spoil things for others who haven't had a chance to see it yet. Others may enjoy the film, and they should be able to make up their minds from seeing the finished product free from advanced spoilage at any rate. I just personally found it predictable, generic, rather dull, and overall, utterly mediocre. I have no axe to grind, and others may think differently, and I have no problem with that. You see, sparky, that's how opinions work in big boy land. Oh, and just because you're apparently begging for your little tirade to have some kind of an impact in order to justify your talkback existence, here's the kind of response that you were so desperate trying to provoke: fuck you, you whiny little try-hard cunt. Happy now? Don't say I never did anything for ya.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 10:14 a.m. CST

    Seen this last week in the UK

    by GordyDuffNI

    I read the review up until "outstanding piece of horror" It's by no means a bad film but there isn't a single solitary thing about it that's outstanding and it is as far and away from what I consider horror done right is. Ethan Hawke is the films only real saving grace and he plays such a inconsiderate, stupid, self obsessed dickhead that it's a miracle I cared about his character at all. Why the fuck does he never turn a light on!!!! What sort of moral fuckwit takes his already traumatised family to live in a house murders took place. Whats with the sons night terrors, oh there a red herring etc etc If you like films that still thing loud bangs are scary your in for a terrifying treat, frankly I've had enough of that shit.... It even sinks low enough to have a camera pull back and Mr Boogie AKA Slipknot rejects head pop up with a loud noise cue end title.. Incredibly Meh...

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 10:25 a.m. CST

    super8 in this film

    by bryrb1277

    After I saw a screening first thing I thought was. Wow thus was a much better use of Super8 film in movie than Super8.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 10:35 a.m. CST



    Somebody watches sons of anarchy :p

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 10:37 a.m. CST

    Massawyrm! Dude! Had no idea! Good for you!!!

    by Mennen

    proud of you - you're getting good reviews too!

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 10:41 a.m. CST

    The GOON movie is on Kickstarter now. DO YOUR PART!!!!

    by onezeroone

    Seriously, you got no one but yourself to blame if that movie never sees light of day.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 11:35 a.m. CST

    Why is the guy from Big Brother so scary?

    by ChestRockwell

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1 p.m. CST

    Disappointed it was Ancient Evil and not real killer

    by Tom

    This film had the potential to give us a real twist, if it had snuck in an actual serial killer, instead of the supernatural Ancient Evil (Joker's cousin, same inept way with make-up). I was focusing on the sheriff, actually old enough to have done all the murders, but either my imagination was very wild, or he was a red herring. Yes, a lot if was horror by numbers: 4 big Jumps; failure of Ellison to turn on lights; and a wife who could sleep through an atomic blast. And why did Ancient Evil (not real name) decide that Super-8 was so cool, and then never move on to video or digital? Just saying. Here's a thought: what if a single mom with 7 kids and her sisters and grandpa and grandma moved in? What a headache for Ancient Evil. For those who have seen the film.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:17 p.m. CST

    If I want horror, I'll just watch Honey Boo Boo

    by DickBallsworth

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:19 p.m. CST

    It was solid,

    by kolchak

    but "Insidious" showed it up. And that was PG-13.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 1:55 p.m. CST

    I hate to do this without having seen it, but have to ask

    by I am_NOTREAL

    How does a box of movies at a house where an entire family was murdered go without discovery until somebody else moves in? Maybe this is explained in the film...but even if the cops were too lazy/dumb to view the films, wouldn't they at least be taken in as evidence? That's the kind of (potentially) huge plot lapse / contrivance that often sets me against a film before it really has a chance. So...hmmmm...

  • You know. Conflict of interest. I am guessing.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 3:40 p.m. CST

    Super 8 Duplication service

    by Tom

    The films re-appear later in the film, and by implication, have the ability to re-appear again and again, so it must be presumed that Ancient Evil has access to a Super 8 duplication service, as well as antique shop with large supply of Super 8 projectors. If there's a sequel (doubtful) they'll have to discover a (very small) box of USB key drives. Or some unknown link in Vimeo.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 5:14 p.m. CST

    The whole haunted media angle

    by I am_NOTREAL

    sounds like The Ring to me, a movie that I detested for being contrived, scareless, overwrought and illogical bunk. Those comments are for the Verbinski / Watts version. I didn't see the original and have no intention to at this stage.

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 5:36 p.m. CST

    Caught a 10pm advance showing last night...good stuff.

    by Cletus Van Damme

    Go and see it this weekend!

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 6:26 p.m. CST

    Is that an Insane Clown Posse Member's Face on the poster???

    by Ryan B

    Looks like it...

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:34 p.m. CST


    by ray a

    I kidd. See what I did there?

  • Oct. 13, 2012, 8:48 a.m. CST

    I really agree with all of your reviews Kidd

    by nyjman8028

    I almost always have the same things to say about the movies I see. I know a bunch of people talk a lot of shit about your reviews, but you have one fan at least here. Although this movie does show you a few of the main scares in the previews, it gets all those out of the way in the first 30 minutes. It saves the really scary shit for the last hour in my opinion, including one very disturbing scene home movie that they don't show in the trailers involving a lawnmower. It really affecting me. I thought this was a well done movie and very refreshing, just like Kidd said. Go see it.

  • Oct. 18, 2012, 3:46 p.m. CST


    by Yursomedush

    Anyway saw this lazy ass movie and wasn't impressed. Hawkeye is good but it's full of cliches and overall it's NOT SCARY. Jump scares do not count as horror. The whole time watching it I was wishing I had stayed in and watched The Shining for the hundredth time. Creepy Ghost kids are so fuckin played out. And the poster and trailers give away everything. Also The Kidd is such a fuckin douchebag.