When it comes to horror movies, houses tend to have dark histories. That’s the case with Scott Derrickson‘s Sinister, which stars Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime novelist looking for his In Cold Blood. The film follows a conventional, often dumb premise, but there’s no denying it’s filled with scares.

The Players:

  • Director: Scott Derrickson
  • Screenwriters: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
  • Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance
  • Cinematography: Chris Norr

The Plot:

Novelist Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) moves into a house where a family was brutally hung in their backyard. When he discovers a box of home movies, he begins to uncover the mystery behind the killings. Through his research he puts his family in the path of a supernatural entity.

The Good:

  • Honestly Scary: Though sometimes the movie relies on cheap tricks – steadily rising score, creepy sounds, popup moments – it’s still undeniably scary. The story that Oswalt uncovers dabbles with the supernatural and he can’t accept it at first because he doesn’t believe in it. His drinking and lack of sleep becomes a problem, and they provide us with a sense of fantasy. Are the things we’re seeing real, or are they Oswalt’s hallucinations? The movie starts to feel like a bad dream.
  • The Humor: Treme‘s James Ransone plays a sweet, plain-spoken deputy who provides much of the comedy. His candidness is effortlessly funny. There’s also a bit of dark humor sprinkled throughout. The home videos, for example, have cute titles like “Sleepy Time,” “Pool Party” and “Hanging Out.” But each reel showcases the horrific and gruesome killing of an entire family who died doing everyday activities.
  • The Super 8 Found Footage: The Super 8 films that Oswalt finds provide some extra edge. Some of the most frightening moments are when he’s watching them. They feature grisly images of people burning, necks being slashed and faces being run over with lawnmowers. It’s very disturbing, but also effective.

The Bad:

  • Scary But Also Dumb: If you’re living in the 21st century, there’s no logical reason to be walking around a haunted house with the lights turned off. Oswalt hears thumps, creaks and creepy noises but instead of flicking the light switch, he grabs a flashlight and bat. It’s frustrating to see him in the darkness when he could easily turn the lights on. When are horror movies going to overcome this? It’s the oldest, cheapest trick in the book.


Sinister has a basic premise that involves a haunted house, some found footage and ritual murders. Sometimes it plays dumb, but it’s still smarter than your average horror film. Plus, thanks to its alcoholic protagonist, there’s tons of honest scares.

The Rating: 7/10

Sinister opens everywhere October 12.

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Will you be seeing Sinister this weekend?