Sinister (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byScott Derrickson
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyChristopher Norr
Edited byFrédéric Thoraval
Music byChristopher Young
Distributed by
Release dates
  • March 11, 2012 (2012-03-11) (SXSW)
  • October 12, 2012 (2012-10-12) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes[2]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Canada[3]
Budget$3 million[4]
Box office$87.7 million[5]

Sinister is a 2012 supernatural horror film directed by Scott Derrickson and written by C. Robert Cargill and Derrickson. It shows Ethan Hawke as a struggling true-crime writer whose discovery of snuff films depicting gruesome murders in his new house puts his family in danger. Juliet Rylance, Fred Thompson, James Ransone, Clare Foley, and Michael Hall D'Addario appear in supporting roles.

Sinister was inspired by a nightmare Cargill had after watching the 2002 film The Ring.[6] Principal photography on Sinister began in Autumn of 2011 in Long Island, New York with a production budget of $3 million.[4] To add to the authenticity of old home movies and snuff films, the Super 8 segments were shot on actual Super 8 cameras and film stock.[7] The film was a co-production between the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

It premiered at the SXSW festival on March 10, 2012.[8] It was released in the United Kingdom on October 5, 2012, and in the United States on October 12. Critics praised its acting, direction, cinematography and atmosphere, but panned its use of jump scares and other horror clichés. It was a box office success, grossing $87.7 million against its budget of $3 million.[5] It has since developed a reputation for scariness and is considered a cult classic. A 2020 study by Broadband Choices named Sinister the scariest film ever made, based on an analysis of viewer heart rates.[9]

A sequel was released in 2015.


True crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves into a home in the fictional town of Chatford, Pennsylvania with his wife Tracy, their 12-year-old son, Trevor, and their 7-year-old daughter, Ashley. Unbeknownst to his wife and children, Ellison has moved them into the home where the Stevenson family were killed by hanging. He intends to write a biography about the case, to regain the fame he lost after his bestselling book Kentucky Blood was followed by two less successful works. He hopes to learn the fate of 10-year-old Stephanie Stevenson, who disappeared following the murders.

Ellison finds a box in the attic that contains a scorpion, as well as a projector and reels of Super 8 film, each labeled as home movies. The films are footage of different families being murdered in various ways, each with a related but innocuous title, such as a mass drowning marked as "Pool Party '66." Each killing is performed by the unseen camera operator. Ellison notes the appearance of a mysterious cultic symbol and a strange, eerie man in the films. Ellison matches footage of a throat-slitting murderer to news reports from St. Louis, Missouri in 1998. Three members of the Miller family were killed, while 13-year-old Christopher Miller vanished. One night, Ellison investigates noises in the attic. Inside the film reels' canister lid, he finds a king snake and childlike drawings depicting the killings, with an eerie figure called "Mr. Boogie" also present. At one point, Ellison encounters a Rottweiler in the back garden.

Ellison consults a local deputy and discovers that the filmed murders took place at different times and in different cities across the country dating back to 1966. A child from each family disappeared following every murder. And before the Stevensons moved to Chatford, they lived in the Millers' former house. The deputy refers Ellison to occult specialist Professor Jonas, to decipher the symbol in the films. Jonas relates the symbol to the ancient and obscure pagan Babylonian god Bughuul, who would kill entire families and take one of their children to consume their soul slowly. Jonas suspects the murders are part of a cult initiation rite, rather than the work of a single murderer. As Ellison investigates footsteps and noises throughout the home one night, it is revealed that ghost-like children invisible to Ellison are the cause, with one of them appearing in Ashley's bedroom. Ashley later paints this girl, whom she identifies as Stephanie Stevenson, on the wall. Another night, Ellison hears the film projector running and finds the missing children seated in the attic watching one of the films. Bughuul appears on camera before physically appearing before Ellison. Ellison takes the camera, projector, and snuff films outside and destroys them. He tells Tracy that they are moving back to their old home.

Jonas sends Ellison, now back at his old house, historical images associated with Bughuul, including the mysterious symbol and three symbolic creatures that Ellison encountered at the Stevenson house: a scorpion, a snake, and a dog. Early Christians believed that images of Bughuul served as a gateway for the monster to come from the spiritual realm to the mortal world, and Bughuul can possess children who come into contact with these images. Ellison discovers the unharmed projector and films in his attic, along with a new film labeled "Extended Cut Endings". The deputy calls Ellison and informs him that every deceased family had once lived in the house where the previous murders took place. He also learns from Professor Jonas the pattern: each new murder occurred shortly after the family moved from the crime scene into a new home, traced back to the killing of the Martinez family by arson in 1979 after they moved to Sacramento, California, from the Portland, Oregon, site of the 1966 drownings. By moving away from the Stevenson house, Ellison has marked himself and his family as the next victims. The new footage depicts the missing children coming onscreen following each murder, revealing themselves to be the murderers under Bughuul's influence.

Ellison becomes lightheaded and notices a green liquid at the bottom of his coffee mug, along with a note from Ashley that says, "Good night, Daddy," before losing consciousness. He awakes to find himself, Tracy, and Trevor bound and gagged on the floor. Ashley, having been influenced by the spirit of Stephanie Stevenson to fall under Bughuul's control, approaches them while filming with the 8 mm camera. She tells her father that she will make him "famous again", and proceeds to slaughter her family with an axe. She then uses their blood to paint childish pictures on the walls of the hallway, along with Bughuul's symbol on a door. Ashley views the film of her murders while drawing the killing in the lid of the home movies box. The missing children stare at her through the movie but flee when Bughuul appears. He lifts Ashley into his arms and teleports into the movie. The box of films sits in the Oswalt family's attic, now accompanied by Ashley's reel titled House Painting '12.


Additionally, Nick King portrays Bughuul / Mr. Boogie. Featured as the children under Bughuul's control are Victoria Leigh as Stephanie, Cameron Ocasio as BBQ Boy, Danielle Kotch as Lawn Girl, Ethan Haberfield as the Pool Party Boy, and Blake Mizrahi as Sleepy Time Boy. An uncredited Vincent D'Onofrio plays Professor Jonas.



Writer C. Robert Cargill says that his inspiration for Sinister came from a nightmare he experienced after seeing the 2002 horror film The Ring, in which he discovered a film in his attic depicting the hanging of an entire family. This scenario became the setup for the plot of Sinister.[10] In creating a villain for the film, Cargill conceptualized a new take on the Bogeyman, calling the entity "Mr. Boogie". Cargill's idea was that the creature would be both terrifying and seductive to children, luring them to their dooms as a sinister Willy Wonka-like figure.[11]

Cargill and co-writer Scott Derrickson ultimately decided to downplay the creature's alluring nature, only intimating how it manipulates the children into murder. In further developing Mr. Boogie, the pair had lengthy discussions about its nature, deciding not to make it a demon but rather a Pagan deity, in order to place it outside the conceptual scope of any one particular religion. Consequently, the villain was given the proper name "Bughuul", with only the child characters in the film referring to it as "Mr. Boogie".[11][12]


In crafting a look for Bughuul, Cargill initially kept to the idea of a sinister Willy Wonka before realizing that audiences might find it "silly" and kill the potential for the film becoming a series. Looking for inspiration, Derrickson typed the word "horror" into flickr and searched through 500,000 images. He narrowed the images down to 15, including a photograph of a ghoul which was tagged simply "Natalie". Cargill was particularly struck by "Natalie" and decided: "What if it's just this guy?". He and Derrickson contacted the photographer and purchased the rights to use the image for $500. Derrickson explained that the image appealed to him because it reminded him of the makeup and costumes worn by performers in black metal, while remaining unique enough so as not to be directly linked to the genre; Derrickson had previously researched black metal while looking for inspiration for Bughuul's symbol, which is ritualistically painted at the scene of each of the film's murder sequences.[11][12] Some of the background music for these murder sequences was taken from ambient tracks by bands associated with the Norwegian black metal scene, including Ulver and Aghast.[13]


Principal photography for Sinister began in autumn of 2011, after Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance signed on to star in the film.[14] The Super 8 segments were shot first, using actual Super 8 cameras and film stock, in order to maintain the aesthetic authenticity of home-shot Super 8 footage.[7] Principal photography took place on Long Island. In an interview with Bleeding Cool, screenwriter Cargill admitted that Hawke's character got his name (Ellison Oswalt) from writer Harlan Ellison and comedian/writer Patton Oswalt.[15] Cargill keeps books by both men on his shelves.


First revealed at the SXSW festival in the United States, Sinister premiered in the United Kingdom at the London FrightFest and in Spain at the Sitges Film Festival.[16][17]

Critical response[edit]

Sinister has an approval rating of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 154 reviews, with an average rating of 6.20/10.[18] The critical consensus states "Its plot hinges on typically implausible horror-movie behavior and recycles countless genre cliches, but Sinister delivers a surprising number of fresh, diabolical twists."[18] The film also has a score of 53 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 30 critics, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[19]

Variety praised the film as "the sort of tale that would paralyze kids' psyches".[20] stated that Sinister was a "deeply frightening horror film that takes its obligation to alarm very seriously".[21] Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars, criticizing a few obvious horror tropes but praising Hawke's performance and calling it "an undeniably scary movie."[22] Peter Paras of E! named it the best horror film of 2012, citing the film's soundtrack and subversion of contemporary horror tropes.[23]

CraveOnline called the film "solid" but remarked that the film "doesn't quite go to the next level that gets me like an Insidious",[24] and IGN praised the film's story while criticizing some of Sinister's "scream-out-loud moments" as lazy.[25]

Reviewer Garry McConnachie of Scotland's Daily Record rated the film four of five stars, saying, "This is how Hollywood horror should be done... Sinister covers all its bases with aplomb."[26]

Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek gave the film three out of five stars, and wrote that despite its faults, "there's something undeniably powerful about Sinister. Hawke's performance holds the screen through its more hackneyed moments, and it's the scenes where it's just him, a projector, and a few feet of hideous 8 mm footage where the movie truly convinces. And while its scares are frequently cheap, it's also difficult to deny that Sinister sometimes manages to inspire moments of palpable dread."[27]

Some reviewers have criticized the film's preoccupation with outdated technology. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star (who gave the film two out of four stars) argues that the movie tries for "old school shocks" but "can't afford a pre-Internet setting."[28] Rafer Guzman of Newsday wrote that "celluloid is such a warm, friendly old format that it seems unlikely to contain the spirit of, say, a child-eating demon."[29] Academic study of the film, however, tends to view Sinister's representation of both old and new media formats as a study in transmediation.[30]

A 2020 study conducted by Broadband Choices named Sinister the scariest movie ever made. The study sampled 50 of the highest-rated horror movies ever made based on reception on sites like IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and Reddit, and then measured study participants' heart rates while watching the sampled films. The average resting heart beat of the study participants was 65 beats per minute (BPM) but jumped to an average 86 BPM while watching the film, an increase of 32% and the highest among all of the sampled films.[31][32]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on February 11, 2013, in the UK and February 19, 2013, in the US[33] with two commentaries (one with director Scott Derrickson and another with writer C. Robert Cargill). The release also included two new features (True Crime Criminals and Living in a House of Death) as well as a featurette on the Sinister Fear Experiment performed by Thrill Laboratory in celebration of the film's theatrical release.


A sequel was announced to be in the works in March 2013, with Derrickson in talks to co-write the script with Cargill, but not to direct.[34] On April 17, 2014, it was announced that Ciaran Foy would direct the film, and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Charles Layton, Xavier Marchand and Patrice Théroux would executive produce the sequel with eOne Entertainment.[35] The film was released on August 21, 2015.[36]


  1. ^ "Sinister". Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ "SINISTER (15)". British Board of Film Classification. July 6, 2012. Retrieved July 27, 2015.
  3. ^ "Sinister". letterboxd. Retrieved October 31, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Kaufman, Amy (October 11, 2012). "'Taken 2,' 'Argo' in tight race for No. 1 at weekend box office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 16, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ a b "Sinister (2012) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  6. ^ "Interview: Sinister Writer C Robert Cargill | Features and Interviews | ScreenGeek - Cult TV & Film News, Reviews, Interviews and Trailers". screengeek. Archived from the original on November 11, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  7. ^ a b McIntyre, Gina (October 13, 2012). "'Sinister': Scott Derrickson on horror … and Tavis Smiley". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  8. ^ Fernandez, Jay A.; Kit, Borys (March 9, 2012). "SXSW: Ethan Hawke Horror Film 'Sinister' Getting Sneak Screening in Austin (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  9. ^ Diaz, Eric (October 20, 2020). "A Scientific Study Has Determined the Scariest Movie Ever". Nerdist. Retrieved December 31, 2023.
  10. ^ Interview: Sinister Writer Cargill Screen Geek
  11. ^ a b c "How Sinister Brought Mr. Boogie to Life". Fearnet. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  12. ^ a b How Internet Art Inspired the Monster in Ethan Hawke's Sinister
  13. ^ Russell, Calum (October 12, 2022). "10 years of 'Sinister': Scott Derrickson's menacing horror". Far Out. Retrieved November 19, 2022.
  14. ^ Scott Derrickson's Untitled Found Footage Film Gets a Sinister Title Dread Central
  15. ^ Shaw-Williams, Hannah (October 8, 2012). "Sinister Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill On The Secrets Of Scaring An Audience's Pants Off". Bleeding Cool News And Rumors. Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  16. ^ FrightFest '12 UK Genre Fest Announces Full Line Up; Record 48 Films! 'V/H/S' 'Sinister' 'American Mary' 'Under the Bed' & More! Bloody Disgusting
  17. ^ Sitges 2012 line-up includes Maniac, The Tall Man, Sinister and The Possession!
  18. ^ a b "Sinister". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  19. ^ "Sinister". Metacritic. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
  20. ^ Review: Sinister Variety
  21. ^ SXSW Review: Sinister
  22. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 10, 2012). "Sinister Movie Review & Film Summary (2012)". Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  23. ^ Paras, Peter (October 12, 2012). "Eight Reasons Sinister Is the Scariest Movie of the Year". E!. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  24. ^ SXSW Review: Sinister CraveOnline
  25. ^ Tilly, Chris (March 13, 2012). "Sinister 2 Review". IGN. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
  26. ^ McConnachie, Garry (October 2, 2012). "Movie review: Sinister". Daily Record. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  27. ^ Lambie, Ryan (September 25, 2012). "Sinister review". Den of Geek. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  28. ^ Howell, Peter (October 12, 2012). "Sinister review: Mr. Boogie, meet scarier Mr. Google". The Star. Toronto.
  29. ^ "'Sinister' review: Snuff stuff". Newsday. Retrieved March 24, 2017.[dead link]
  30. ^ Olivier, Marc (June 26, 2014). "Sinister Celluloid in the Age of Instagram – Marc Olivier". Archived from the original on October 17, 2015. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  31. ^ LeBlanc, Wesley (October 19, 2020). "Scientific Study Determines Sinister Is the Scariest Movie Ever". IGN. Retrieved September 18, 2022.
  32. ^ Bean, Travis (October 17, 2020). "What Is The Scariest Movie Ever? Science Now Has An Answer To That Question". Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  33. ^ "Sinister DVD/Blu Ray release USA". Archived from the original on March 1, 2013. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  34. ^ Wakeman, Gregory (March 4, 2013). "'Sinister' Sequel Announced". The Inquisitor. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  35. ^ "'Sinister 2' Moving Ahead With 'Citadel' Director". The Hollywood Reporter. April 17, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  36. ^ Formo, Brian (August 20, 2015). "Sinister 2 Review". IGN. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

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