Sinister (2012) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The new episode of the Revisited video series looks back at Scott Derrickson’s Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke

The episode of Revisited covering Sinister was Written, Edited, and Narrated by Kier Gomes, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

Something’s up in suburbia again. And this time- it’s something sinister. When it comes to horror movies, we all have our preferences in terms of style and sub-genre. Some of us favor a nice haunted house, while others may be looking for a creepy found footage piece, or even the occasional possession situation. In either case, you may find a taste of what you’re looking for in today’s episode where we take a retrospective look at a fun horror film with more punch packed into it than you may have expected. A movie that twists and ties different types of spooky into a small and intimate story about a struggling writer who may have just uncovered the ugly truth behind his small town’s murderous history- and how it may be connected to deaths all over the world. You might say that we’re in for something… Sinister.

Sinister (watch it HERE) is the 2012 horror hit that director Scott Derrickson and writer Robert Cargill conceived after being terrified by another supernatural horror film- The Ring. The duo took individually scary elements like the boogeyman, snuff films, and possession, and blended them into a mix that serves this incredibly entertaining story. With a small budget of $3 Million, I think Derrickson built out a world that feels rich with dark history, while also remaining small in scope and only really taking place in a handful of locations. The movie follows Ellison Oswalt (the most movie name I’ve ever heard) played expertly by the always reliable Ethan Hawke. Hawke is a hell of an actor with an interesting knack for picking his projects. Hawke is no stranger to horror, of course, tackling projects like The Purge, Daybreakers, Taking Lives, and of course who could forget his haunting performance as “The Grabber” in 2021’s Black Phone. But he’s also a very versatile actor with range that makes him the perfect leading man in almost any scenario. And I’m happy to report that Hawke’s performance as Ellison is no exception. He’s got such a way about him that this disturbing film STILL makes me want to get into my softest cardigan and sip whiskey all day. Just me?

So, Ellison is a true-crime author who seems to have passed his prime in terms of quality, and book sales. Eager to restore his former glory- Ellison and his family move into a house in small-town Pennsylvania. What Ellison’s family doesn’t know is that he moved them into that house because of the mysterious deaths of the family that previously lived there. This seems like a win for Ellison because, of course, he’s literally LIVING in the inspiration for his comeback book. But, he’s definitely gonna regret it.

When Ellison finds a film projector and a stash of home movies in the attic, he slowly unravels a dark truth. The deaths of the families are not only all on tape, but they also all have the same frightening figure lurking in the shadows. Now, rather than doing what I would do and run for the hills, our guy decides to cross reference the creepy man in the videos with a clip from the news in 1988 which showed a violent murder being committed by a child- and you guessed it- the man was also in that clip. This sends Ellison on a hunt for the truth as he discovers that there are countless occurrences of children murdering their families in violent ways and videotaping it every time.

Now, as for the man in the videos- let’s talk about what we’re dealing with here. It’s revealed about midway through the movie that the symbol and face that Ellison is seeing is the ancient god known as Bughuul. And what’s his deal? Well, thank you for asking. He’s known for violently killing entire families of people and selecting one of their children to take with him so he can slowly feed on their soul. Now, when it comes to the reputation of this monster, I can dig it. But I must say, I’ve never been a huge fan of the character design of this guy. I know some folks really like the imagery of this dude hiding in the shadows and I admit it’s definitely spooky- but to me the movie delivers such an interesting lore and backstory for him that, to me, the look of him is a bit of a letdown. I don’t mind the Slipknot looking face and hair, but when you pair that with this gothic-like suit, he ends up looking more like a cosplay character than a horror icon. Now, don’t let me be the only voice on this, please comment your thoughts below on the villain design of this movie!

Now, while I got my thoughts on Bughuul out of the way- The ghosts of the children in this movie are on the other side of the spectrum for me and I think they look great. I’m a big believer in less is more when you’re not working with top-notch practical effects and the designs of these little ghost kids is simple-yet-memorable. Speaking of the kids, Ellison can’t see them. But he notices things going thump in the night and it’s revealed that his kids definitely CAN see them. And of course, this is a horror mystery, so we need to have some kids making creepy drawings right about here. There we go.

Things get increasingly spookier and it takes Ellison coming face-to-face with Bughuul to finally decide to walk away and move back to their old home. But will that save them? No. The plot thickens. See, it’s learned that the murders in the films came with extended cuts. These new films show more murders that are also connected. They all took place in families that previously lived in the crime scene houses. Basically, it’s too late and no one is safe. I think this is clever in that it allows us to be subverted in thinking the family may be able to escape, but I also have to say that the cops in the movie really suck at their job. Like, Hawke was the only reason that anyone even bothered to look further into this stuff. These cases had been cold for years.

So, it all culminates in what I would say is one of the most fucked up movie endings at the time this movie was released. Of course, these days we expect the dark ending. We expect filmmakers to shock us or at least try to. But when I first saw this movie in 2012, I was genuinely left with a pit in my stomach for hours after. While Ellison is trying to figure out how to save his family, he notices a strange looking liquid at the bottom of his class. And then…

Sinister Revisited

This final scene is a lot. Ellison’s desire to be famous again, his obsession with the glory days, his selfishness, were all his undoing. We don’t see the person we’ve followed throughout the entire movie learn from their mistakes and fix things. Instead, we see his daughter brutally murder her family with an axe before being taken into the film herself as Bughuul’s new slave. It’s VERY sinister.

Overall, this movie delivers and still gives me chills up the spine each time I decide to revisit it. It’s kind of one of those movies that always felt like it came out a year too early or a year too late in that it sort of feels like a blend of the tropey mid-2000’s movies we used to get and the more recent bleak and ultra-shocking stuff we see nowadays. The film of course spawned a later sequel appropriately titled Sinister II which took the same basic concept and told a new story. I also really enjoy the sequel and maybe even like it more than this one. Which one do you like more? Comment below!

Box office results for Sinister were incredible with the movie grossing nearly $90M on just a $3M budget and the critical response was also positive with Roger Ebert calling it “an undeniable scary movie” and praising Hawke’s captivating performance. Personally, I think this movie mostly holds up and while it’s not my favorite horror film, and it’s far from a masterpiece- Sinister is a fun and creepy ride that is sure to make your spooky season a while lot spookier.

Two previous episodes of Revisited can be seen below. To see more of our shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals channel – and subscribe while you’re at it!

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