Sinister (review) released theatrically on Friday, October 12, 2012, and is poised to be a big fall hit in the horror market. Unlike many horror films of late that do not do advanced screenings for horror critics, this one has been pretty widely available from the festival premier in March 2012 to critic and fan screenings widely available prior to release date. Why so much transparency? It’s pretty clear that the distributors knew that the reviews would be great, so weren’t afraid to have the film written about early. Those films that refuse advanced screenings? It’s easy to suspect that the opposite is true… why let the cat out of the bag that the picture is a dud before opening weekend?
Sinister is a combination true crime drama, horror movie, supernatural thriller and murder mystery. Starring Ethan Hawke as Ellison, a crime writer who had a huge hit a decade before, Sinister follows a family who moves into the crime-scene house of a brutal multiple homicide in hopes of uncovering enough seedy details of the crime to prompt the next New York Times best seller. We have a spoiler-free review of Sinister here, so if your goal in reading this piece is to learn about the film and decide whether you want to slam down your twelve bucks for a movie ticket, we suggest you check out the review and not read any further; this is where the spoilers begin.
What follows is a full accounting of what happens in Sinister, from beginning to end, with nothing left out. This is your last warning – if you do not want spoilers, go to the review now!
Warning Sinister Spoilers Below
Includes Spoiler Images
Now that we’ve cleared the room of all who don’t want to know what happens in this film until they see it for themselves, we can continue…
Sinister opens with a family moving into a new house, and the youngest girl Ashley (Clare Foley) is not at all happy about it. Her father is Elliston Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a semi-famous author who wrote a blockbuster 10 years ago that blew the lid off of a violent and unsolved murder case, and today he moves from town to town looking for that next big murder mystery that will put him back in the limelight. Also part of the family are Ellison’s wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and son Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario). While the moving van is still in the driveway the local Sheriff shows up to greet Ellison, and warn him not to cause any trouble. It seems that in his past books Ellison had bashed the local cops pretty badly, and so he’s not very popular when he moves into town. At the end of the exchange we get a hint that the house Elliston and family are now occupying is the same house that the grisly murder of a family took place, all family members except the youngest child being hung from a tree in the back yard. Elliston’s wife suspects that they may be living close to the murder scene and asks directly if they are living “two doors down from a crime scene”, and Elliston truthfully answers “no”. They are IN the crime scene.
Elliston goes about setting up his office, and getting all of the evidence surrounding the murder he’s studying pinned to easels and arranged around the room. When he goes into the attic to put some things away he finds a single box in the middle of the attic floor, with a scorpion hanging out by it. He kills the scorpion and takes the box downstairs to see that it contains Super 8 movie reels and a movie projector. When he is alone later that night he plays one of the films to see that the group hanging murder of the family that lived in this house was caught on film. There are other reels in this box as well, and each of them has a different family being killed in a different way. It appears there is a serial killer at work here, which is something the police didn’t discover.
While going through the film that shows a family being drowned by being pulled into a swimming pool while bound to a lawn chair with duct tape, he sees the reflection in the water of a strange looking man/creature with a white face and black around his eyes. When Elliston approaches the sheet pinned to the wall being used as a movie screen, the film catches fire and the images of this dark specter are lost. About this time Elliston hears bumps and movements out in the house, and goes to investigate. After a bit of a jump scare we see that it is simply the youngest daughter Ashley looking for the bathroom.
The next night Elliston commits most of the films to files on his Macbook Pro (product placement) and starts going through them frame by frame. He finds that within the filming of another family murder, where all of the members except the youngest child are tied to their beds and get their throats slit, there is a quick scene where that same face is caught in a mirror in the hallway. He captures and prints this face and pins it to his board. Keep a lookout for this face on his computer screen though, because later it is going to turn and look at Elliston when he turns his back, and it is a very creepy moment. Elliston hears noises in the house again, and goes to investigates again, and finds that his son (who sleepwalks and has night terrors) has climbed into a cardboard box. The scene from the trailer of the “ghost” coming out of a box backward is not actually a ghost, but the young son Trevor having his terror and exiting his hiding place.
As time goes by Elliston starts hearing more and more sounds in the house, some of them quite dramatic evidence that there is indeed someone in the attic throwing things around. He goes up there to investigate and winds up falling through the ceiling onto the floor below. Elliston is also starting to find evidence of the mysterious face in other movie scenes, and actually sees the specter himself while looking out the window. He goes outside to look for the ghoul and finds his sleepwalking son again, outside and having another terror. He brings the boy inside and when he goes outside to retrieve his baseball bat he is almost attacked by a Rottweiler… but the dog sees something behind Elliston and runs away. While all of this is happening we see the ghosts of the children missing from each murder scene running around the house as ghosts, and one of them is talking to the little girl Ashley while pointing to a drawing on the wall of the family hanging from the back yard tree. The next morning Ashley draws a picture of this little girl in a tire swing on the wall in the hallway, and gets in trouble from her mother. The tire swing is seen in the films of the prior families’ murder, and was on the very branch where the family died.
A member of the local police force and criminology major, whom he calls “Deputy So and So”, befriends Elliston and starts to help by finding addresses and information about the other murders found on the Super 8 reels. Meanwhile Elliston is getting more and more freaked out in the house by the noises he hears. Elliston consults a local college professor and learns that the symbols that are found on many of the murder reels belong to an old Pagan deity named Bagul or Bakasura, The Great Devourer. This deity is said to consume children, either their physical bodies or their souls, and that looking at his picture or his symbol can open a doorway for him to possess the living. Children are the most susceptible to this possession. Elliston then sees another film reel of a lawn mower going over the faces of a family. Later that night Elliston wakes up to hear the film projector going running in the attic, and when he investigates he sees the ghosts of all of the missing children watching the death movies. That is the last straw that prompts him to burn the films and move his family out of that house and back to their old house in the middle of the night. Meanwhile Deputy So and So keeps trying to call Elliston, who screens the calls and doesn’t answer.
Now back in their old house, Elliston finds the box of burned films completely unburned and in perfect shape, except this time there is an envelope of extra bits of film labeled “extended version” or something like that. At about the same time he answers the call from the Deputy who informs him that there is a pattern among all of the victims; that each family that was killed had just moved away from the house where the last family had been killed. Since Elliston and his family lived at the murder scene of the family who were hung in a tree, and now have moved out of that house… they are next in line for death. Elliston thanks him for the information and splices the film clips together and watches them. He sees the endings of each of the murders he saw before, but this time the one child that turned up missing after every murder steps into the frame, making it obvious that it was those little children who killed their families. Each child holds their finger up to their mouth in the “shhhh” sign at the very end of their films.
At this moment Elliston begins to feel a bit woozy, and glances down at the note that his daughter left him with the coffee he’s been drinking, and some white sentiment at the bottom of the cup… he’s been drugged by his young daughter. When he wakes up he is on the living room floor, bound with duct tape, and looking at his wife and young son who are also bound on the floor. The young girl then gets an axe and chops her family to pieces, and films it all. At the very end of the film she makes the “shhhhh” symbol to the camera as the other children had done.
After killing her family Ashley paints pictures all over the walls in their blood, and draws a picture of the family in the bottom of the lid of film reels, next to pictures of all of the other families who had died… each participant labeled “Dad”, “Mom”, and shows the siblings names and a picture of another man labeled as “Mr. Boogie”. Mr. Boogie is the face that Elliston had been seeing, and this is apparently the deity Bagul. The movie projector begins playing and all of the missing children are there, but they run away when they see that Mr. Boogie has walked into the room with Ashley. Mr. Boogie picks Ashley up and steps into the movie on the screen, walking away with her. In the ending shot we see that the box of home movies is ready for the next person to find and continue the cycle, now with a new home movie added to the collection.
Sinister is very scary with a great story as well as performances, lighting, sound and music. Watching this movie at night in your house with the lights out will undoubtedly become a tradition for horror freaks who want to recapture the level of fright they experienced that very first time.
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