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Sinister (2012)

March 6th, 2013 by unkle lancifer · 11 Comments

Home movies are naturally creepy. There is something depressing about folks hamming it up while forever trapped in a grainy, bleached-out world that no longer exists. SINISTER opens with a super-8 flick that brings the medium’s innate moroseness to grotesque heights, as it happens to feature a family with sacks on their heads being hung from a tree. Some sort of makeshift execution device has been crafted where, as the tree’s branch is sawed off, the weight of the branch dropping raises the squirming family off the ground and to their final Kodak moment. It’s a grisly way for a movie to introduce itself and an early indicator that SINISTER aims to live up to its name. What could be more disturbing than witnessing an entire family killed together? Later in the film we’ll find out; witnessing an entire family killed together in front of their Chihuahua!

ETHAN HAWKE plays dishonorable dad Ellison Oswalt who moves his unsuspecting family into the house where the murders took place. We’re clear on his motivation (Ellison was a once celebrated true crime writer who has fallen out of favor and is looking for his next inspiration) but his reasoning is foggy. The killer of the family was never caught and one child was never found so the house’s heinous history is still an open wound. Who would bring their kids into a place like that? Can’t Ellis’ research be done anywhere considering it mostly consists of pinning string to a map and writing questions on Post-it notes? Ellison knows his family is bound to find out but he lies to them just the same and it’s suggested this is not the first time he has put work ahead of them. Hey, I’m down with an unlikable protagonist, I’m just not sure I’m down with his wife being presented as a wet blanket nag when she has every reason to be pissed off. Moving sucks.

Ellison’s theory that living in the crime scene might offer him insight pays off in spades when he finds a box full of snuff flicks in the attic made by the killer! What a break! Sure, this is clearly invaluable evidence to the murders of dozens of innocent people but by sharing it with the authorities, he’s jeopardizing his book so he keeps it to himself. He’s obsessed, not obsessed enough to watch all the movies in one sitting, which by the looks of it he could, but obsessed just the same. The more he watches the more his life crumbles and the more he has to deal with scorpions, snakes, invisible dancing children with circles under their eyes, stay-at-home actor VINCENT D’ONOFRIO and his daughter painting on walls other than those she has been given permission to paint on.

SINISTER contains brief moments that are sublimely scary. When we first catch a glimpse of what’s breeding the horror, it’s a vague, bone chilling image. But the more things come into focus the harder I found it to swallow (which is strange because my gullibility is of legend.) HAWKE is great but his earnestness tends to highlight the multitude of shortcuts and contrivances. (How convenient that an ancient deity just happens to resemble a modern metal-head’s SAW-friendly wet dream.) The wrestling flavors of deadpan gritty thriller and broad horror fantasy don’t so much clash as beg to be better stirred.

Can I get nit-picky? When Ellison’s family moves into the house months after a notorious slaughter has taken place, I get that the tree remains in the back yard to inform us of where we are, but why the hell is the branch that was sawed down still hanging off of it? I’ve learned to let bigger issues than that pass in order to get my scares on but I’d be lying if I said that dead branch didn’t get stuck in my craw. It drove me nuts. In fact, I still want to jump into the movie and drag it off myself. Maybe it’s me. I have been on organizing tear lately but still…even if a family was not hanged on that tree, human behavior dictates that somebody would do something about that branch! It’s dead! I should concentrate on the score. The score is cool.

If you are a fan of supernatural flicks this is worthwhile for the handful of times it hits the nail on the head but honestly I could never completely fall under its spell. For me it was like the devil laughing in my face but with spinach in his teeth.

Tags: General Horror · Tykes in Trouble

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 craigNo Gravatar // Mar 6, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    In the past year I’ve decided to just throw my hands in the air and let myself be taken by all the bad logic used in these kinds of movies (it’s a self-defensive mode that I’ve had to apply against all my will, or else I’ll never enjoy any horror film ever again). It does have all those logic questions: Why didn’t anyone remove the broken limb from the murder tree while the rest of the place has been meticulously landsqaped? Why wouldn’t the wife have simply googled the house or at least have asked the real estate agent a bit about what they’re buying (these movies always seem to imply that the father of the family just buys the place without any say-so from his partner or children). Is it really within the legal juristiction of the local sheriff to say he “dosn’t wanna” supply your family with law enforcment? Are filmmakers still using kids in horror movies with the hope they’re going to scare someone? And the most pressing of all; What kind of unearthly power can find a way to produce the long-defunct format of super-8 and develop it, to boot. Still, I let this one take me. It was an upstream battle, but I think I may have this whole thing licked and I’m on the patht to finding a lot of enjoyment in most anything that’s getting released nowadays.

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 6, 2013 at 4:01 pm


    I’m still kind of shocked that I had such a problem going with the flow on this one! I’m totally with you on learning to let the bad logic go in order to enjoy the film. I guess this one just found my Achille’s heel!

    When they first show the evil dude in the pool I think it’s insanely scary looking!! But they loose me. I fell off the cart! That darn tree kept knocking me off!

    It’s funny because when folks rag on the logic problems in say, Prometheus, I have no idea what they are complaining about. I just think” Hey, it’s a movie!” But Sinister beat me down!

    Also: How were they able to make kids look so un-scary? That’s quite a feat! Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe Hawke took his part too seriously for me. I dunno.

    Is that their previous house they go to near the end? I’m not sure if I understood that correctly. It looked like Wayne Manor. No wonder the wife did not want to move into the new joint!

    I guess with a movie like this it really depends on what kind of mood you’re in when you see it. I did not have the power to jump over that many hurdles!

    I’ll just be thankful for that pool image and the score. I did really like the way music was used in this.

  • 3 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 6, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Oh- and I will absolutely watch the sequel when it comes out anyway. But the branch better not be in the sequel.

  • 4 craigNo Gravatar // Mar 6, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Now that you mention it, I seem to recall that this one did exactly what INCIDIOUS (or some other movie like it) did; it changed houses in the third act. That’s a rule that should never be broken. The family should have to endure the entire horror ride in the house that the film is centered around. If there was a point when my grounding got a bit unsteady it would be a that point because it hurts the balance (especially when said house in the third act is so much grander than just a simple bricked ranch-style home).
    Here’s to a tree-free sequel!

  • 5 TaylorNo Gravatar // Mar 7, 2013 at 9:22 am

    I thought the Super 8 movies in Sinister were really creepy, but the narrative around them was really lazily written. I really don’t think there was any artistic purpose for having the Ethan Hawke character never EVER leave the house (until they move near the end, of course) other than not wanting to take the trouble to establish any other locations. The other problems I had that stuck out enough for me to still remember them since seeing it in the theater are more nitpicky, but they’re still there: the scare of the son climbing out of the cardboard box was such a ridiculous red-herring that I literally physically rolled my eyes when they explained it. They might as well have gotten up the next morning and had Ethan Hawke say, “Hey son, sorry I interrupted rehearsal for your one-man interpretive dance show last night! I can only imagine how scary that might have looked to someone watching without context.” Also the slow-mo ghost kids looked too Dickensian waif-ish for me not to think they were hilarious.

    But still, there was some imagery in those home movies that still sticks with me. The first look we *allllmost* get of the demon in the swimming pool really gave me goosebumps.

    Have you guys seen FunWithStuttering’s repurposed old home movies on YouTube? Now I feel potentially dumb because I can’t remember if Kindertrauma is where I first heard about them…If not, you should look them up.

  • 6 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 7, 2013 at 11:20 am


    I have never seen those Funwithstuttering videos! Now I’ll be trapped on Youtube! More proof that home movies are born creepy…

    Here’s the page for those interested….

    Oh boy, the kid coming out of a box thing! I’m thinking the script was possibly written by a used car salesman. There’s a flimsy excuse for everything. Don’t mind me, I’m just sleepwalking!

    The dancing ghoul kids reminded me of an old Kate Bush video- it was a little embarrassing.

    Did the daughter use glowing green re-animator juice to poison her dad?

    I also thought the still shot of the Bogie in the bushes was really bad (especially compared to that incredible under water image). Everything is pixilated except him? Looked like sloppy photoshop to me. And the appearance on the computer was straight out of

    Ack. I gotta stop!

  • 7 knobgobblerNo Gravatar // Mar 8, 2013 at 7:22 am

    I was looking forward to this one because of the raves I’d read… but watching it the other night I just thought it was kinda crap.
    Overbearing music, Mr. Boogie looks like the lead singer in a death metal band, father is a seven-layer cake of dumb… everything freaking obvious and s-p-e-l-l-e-d out for those who spent most of the movie texting on their phones.
    I think the idea that spawned it, making creepy home movies… those were decent, but all the filler around them just annoyed me.

  • 8 outofthepinkskyNo Gravatar // Mar 10, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    So glad I came across this website and this discussion. I thought the first half of the movie was good, but the second half lost me. The tree limb bugged the hell out of me as well. The one part that really creeped me out was the “BBQ” home movie. I think it was the music that did it. That was some seriously creepy music! As for the second house, part of the story was that the families were not murdered until they moved. As such, the Oswalt family had to move before they were killed and they moved back to their old house since it hadn’t sold. I got the impression that Ellison was a bit of a has-been who bought that house based on the money he’d earned from “Kentucky Blood” (I think that’s what it was called) but hadn’t had a hit since, so the money was drying up.

  • 9 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 12, 2013 at 10:00 am


    I read that the original idea in the script was to have the Bogie guy be a Willy Wonka/Pied piper type. That could have been really creepy and somewhat original. But they had to play it safe with that boring overused ‘scary” rocker aesthetic. I guess it worked for a lot of people but it just looks like a lame concert T- shirt to me.


    That is where I really dug the music as we’ll – it was like a blues/ gospel broken record loop and it worked really good with the film stock. I thought all the home movies worked except the lawnmower one. That mansion house was over the top! I don’t think Stephen King even lives like that! no wonder he needs to write another hit!

  • 10 outofthepinkskyNo Gravatar // Mar 12, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I’ve discovered that the music used in the “BBQ” reel wasn’t just written for the film score. It’s a song called “Silence Teaches You How to Sing” by a band called Ulver. It’s 24 minutes long and they edited it to get those two pieces of music from the song (they’re not adjacent in the full song). Anyway, I’ve been listening to the EP it’s on, “Teachings in Silence,” for a couple days now and I really like it. It has its creepy qualities, but it’s also quite beautiful. I recommend checking it out. Spotify has it.

  • 11 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 13, 2013 at 1:14 am


    Thanks so much for the heads up! That’s really cool. I found it on YouTube in two parts…
    Great takeaway from the film!

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