Sinister (2012): Close but No Cigar


Directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson and starring Ethan HawkeSinister put a bit of a twist on the “found” film footage movie. I saw trailers for this film last year and could not wait to see it. Sadly I had to wait until it became available on iTunes, where I found that it was probably more effective in a movie theatre.

Ethan Hawk plays author Ellison Oswalt a true crime writer that had a “mega” hit with his first book. This taste of fame via the number one slot on the New York best-seller list has left him scrambling for another dose and he decides to move into the house where a family were murdered and write about the crime.

While moving his family and their things into the house, he finds a box with ‘home movies’ written on the side of it. Inside it has an old 8mm projector and some spools of film; all with different titles and years on the canisters. “Pool Party” and “Sleepy Time” are just two of the cute titles on the cases.

Watching the horrible home movies.

Curious, Ellison watches the films. The first one he sees is of the murder of the family whose house he now resides in. In a short time he becomes obsessed with these films and starts finding “clues” in each of them that points to a serial killer’s work. While watching these films, he starts drinking whiskey and hearing things.

It does not help that his oldest son suffers from ‘night terrors’ and sleep walks as well. One of the scariest scenes in the film occurs near the beginning and involves a cardboard box. I can reveal nothing else about the scene, but, if I had seen this in a movie theatre, I probably would have wet myself.

 Clare Foley  and Michael Hall D’Addario were excellent as Oswalt’s two children and D’Addario was convincing in his depiction of night terrors. Unfortunately, they were the only other family members (apart from Ethan’s Ellison) who were totally convincing. The mother (played by Juliet Rylance) never convinced me for one moment that she was a loving member of this family.

There was a complete lack of chemistry between her and Hawke and their relationship felt staged. It did a lot to damage the picture and that is one aspect of the film that would not have been helped by the big screen.

But by far the most pleasant surprise was James Ransone  (The Next Three Days, Prom Night) as the awe-struck Deputy who “aids” Ellison in his “research.” Apart from Hawke himself, Ransone was one of the more interesting things about the film. His role as the helpful local who desperately wants to be in the acknowledgement section of Oswalt’s new book, is nothing short of excellent.

As the film geared up and starting revealing different twists and turns of plot, there were several things that irritated the hell out of me. One of which was the determination that Hawke’s character refused to turn a light on when he investigated what he thought were intruders coming into his house. This man has moved into a new, unfamiliar house and yet he is confident enough to move through the pitch dark rooms (at one point armed with a tiny torch and a baseball bat) while he searches.

For the love of Pete, turn on a light man!

I am sure that the film makers added this touch to crank up the scare factor but, come on guys, they’ve just moved in, realistically, he would have had to turn on a light or two. This combined with the total lack of believability that plagued his relationship with his wife, just irked me and pulled me “out of the moment” too many times.

On the other hand, it was nice to see Hollywood veteran actor  Fred Dalton Thompson  in a cameo a the local law member who is not pleased to see Oswalt move into the murder house. It was also nice to see Vincent D’Onofrio (who made himself a “house hold” name as Robert Goren in TV’s 2001 – 2011 series Law & Order: Criminal Intent) In a role that he literally could have phoned in, he plays an ‘uncredited’ Professor who specialises in “occult” crimes.

The film does offer a unique sort of plot twist and some pretty effective scares, but, I got the feeling that it worked better in a really dark cinema, whereas, on a smaller 42 inch screen in an adequately lit room, the film paled. I suppose it also did not help that I’d just seen Mama and that film really impressed the hell out of me.

So a combination of the film’s foibles left me a bit disappointed. A relationship that did not work for the film, combined with certain ‘unrealistic’ elements that annoyed, made it difficult to maintain that suspension of disbelieve that is such a requirement for films like this one.

So my final verdict, is a 4 out of 5 stars; mainly because the parts of the film that did work, worked well and the film did disturb me enough that I had to sleep with a light on. More creepy  and unsettling than scary, apart from that first scene with the cardboard box, the film is adequate but not a “classic” by any means. Great plot but an uneven execution.

So nice to see an ominous Fred Dalton Thompson.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

12 thoughts on “Sinister (2012): Close but No Cigar”

  1. I think the relationship was portrayed that way on purpose,his wife was never in a scene when any real horror was happening,she always arrived as extra almost after the event,I enjoyed the the movie but found the ending disappointing,nice blog.


    1. Nothing spectacular, I’m afraid, but of course that is just my opinion. Someone once argued almost savagely for the film, I didn’t agree…Thanks for stopping by and commenting mate! 😀


    1. Tim, it’s pretty good. The director did a masterful job of creating atmosphere. I was hoping for a bit more on the ending, and from the villain, but the villain is definitely one of the more memorable ones you’ll see in modern horror; just wish they utilized him a bit more. But nonetheless it’s definitely worth a watch. I have to disagree with Mike though, and say this was better than Mama. The third act on Mama was recycled from other films, and ruined the entire thing for me. I didn’t like the ending much on Sinister, either, but it didn’t bother me as much as Mama. But both of these films was better than The Possession. I see that’s the next review on Mike’s blog; better go check that one out and see if I’m going to agree or debate with Mike! lol.


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