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Sinister (2012)

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Washed-up true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt finds a box of super 8 home movies that suggest the murder he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose work dates back to the 1960s.


Scott Derrickson
1,833 ( 162)
3 wins & 13 nominations. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Ethan Hawke ... Ellison Oswalt
Juliet Rylance ... Tracy
Fred Dalton Thompson ... Sheriff
James Ransone ... Deputy
Michael Hall D'Addario ... Trevor
Clare Foley ... Ashley
Rob Riley Rob Riley ... E.M.T.
Tavis Smiley ... Anchor
Janet Zappala Janet Zappala ... Reporter
Victoria Leigh ... Stephanie
Cameron Ocasio ... BBQ Boy
Ethan Haberfield Ethan Haberfield ... Pool Party Boy
Danielle Kotch ... Lawn Girl
Blake Mizrahi ... Sleepy Time Boy
Nicholas King ... Bughuul / Mr. Boogie (as Nick King)


True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves himself and his family into a house where a horrific crime took place earlier, but his family doesn't know. He begins researching the crime so that he can write a new book about it to help his flailing career. He uses some "snuff" film footage he finds in the house to help him in his research, but he soon finds more than he bargained for. There is a figure in each of the films but who or what is it? As a result, his family start to suffer (as does he) and things take a turn for the worst. Will they survive? Written by Michael Hallows Eve

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

writer | box | ghost | fear | first part | See All (110) »


Have You Seen Him? See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for disturbing violent images and some terror | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

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Release Date:

12 October 2012 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Untitled Scott Derrickson Project See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »


Box Office


$3,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

£1,435,722 (United Kingdom), 7 October 2012, Limited Release

Opening Weekend USA:

$18,007,634, 14 October 2012, Wide Release

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Ethan Hawke plays a writer, which he is in real life, having written two novels: "The Hottest State" (1996) and "Ash Wednesday" (2002). See more »


(at around 1h 30 mins) When Ellison carries a container of materials to the attic for storage (which should contain a number of items) it is apparent that it is empty as he drops it on the attic floor, having been startled to see the projector box already sitting in the attic. See more »


[first lines]
Tracy: Just one box?
Ellison Oswalt: It's for my office. It's fragile.
Tracy: Sissy.
See more »


Spoofed in The Good Friday: Evil Easter II (2012) See more »


Fragment #1
Written by Nicholas Triarchos
Performed by Accurst
Courtesy of Red Stream, Inc./Colflesh Music
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

"Sinister"- A solid and satisfying creep-show despite a clunky third act.
7 June 2017 | by MaximumMadnessSee all my reviews

Say what you will about the varying quality of their releases- popular horror film production company Blumhouse really has a good thing going these days. With micro-budget features like the "Insidious" and "Paranormal Activity" series that are reliant on genuine scares over effects, and some very decent and high-quality releases under their name, its a modern day rags-to-riches story like few others. A company that has flourished without having to spend the hundreds of millions that bigger studios throw around. And one of their more fascinating releases of the past few years has most certainly been director Scott Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill's atmospheric and unsettling freak-show "Sinister." It has all the trademarks of an inferior film- plenty of jumps, lots of blood-'n-gore that is questionable, a blaring soundtrack. And yet, I feel it rises above many other films because of one thing- expert building and payoff of atmosphere.

We follow the story of true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who moves his family into a new house... though his wife and children are unaware that their new home is also the location of an infamous unsolved murder, which Ellison is hoping to use as the basis for a new book. Soon enough, while doing research, Ellison discovers a mysterious box packed away in the attic that houses a collection of 8mm film strips appearing to depict almost ritualistic murders, all with one thing in common- the death of an entire family. As Ellison tries to solve the mystery of these dark and devious film-strips, his family soon finds itself haunted by strange happenings and unexplainable events... which may very well be tied the spirits of the slain victims and a demonic figure that Ellison begins to recognize as he continually appears again and again during his investigation...

A great deal of why the film works lays in the capable hands of the creative minds behind it. While I have taken issue with some of director Derrickson's films in the past (including the woefully misjudged "The Day the Earth Stood Still" remake), I've very much admired his work in the field of horror, in addition to his recent return to the mainstream with the delightful "Doctor Strange." And despite a limited budget, he shines through with wicked visual direction and a wonderfully disturbing sense of dread in "Sinister." This is one eerie, unsettling film, and his keen use of darkness, composition and suggestive camera angles lends a lot of fear to the proceedings. You can feel the tension growing with each and every passing moment, and at any time, you feel like everything is going to fall apart. I also very much admired how he handled the many "snuff films" we see peppered throughout the runtime... they are deliciously evil and twisted in all the right ways to give you the best of goosebumps.

The story Derrickson and Cargill craft is just a blast and a half, with extremely likable characters (archetypal though they may be) and a good structure that builds at a gradual but consistent pace. It's a very well-written film for the most part, and it does its job wonderfully in setting up the insanity to follow. Combine that with top-notch performances, and you got the recipe for a great little horror film. Ethan Hawke is absolutely marvelous as always, and it's nice to see him doing just a fun, old-fashioned horror flick. Supporting roles by the likes of Juliet Rylance, James Ransone and Clare Foley are also extremely well-played. And hey... we even get a small, uncredited turn from the fantastic Vincent D'Onofrio as a professor who repeatedly works alongside Oswalt via Skype chat. It's a small role, but it's also a lot of fun.

That being said... Oh, boy is there one glaring issue that does drag the film down quite a bit, and it's where it loses some major points for me. And that is the third act. While I will not spoil anything, be prepared for a bit of a let-down with a final reel that feels hastily patched together and has a fair share of moments that stink of studio interference. The first hour is so well assembled, that it's actually pretty mind-blowing how much of a mess the final thirty or so minutes are. With a rash of mind-numbing moments, repeated sloppy exposition dumps and a final sequence that is more likely to illicit unintentional giggles than genuine shocks... it doesn't go out with a bang so much as a whimper.

Still, it's not enough to ruin the film. Because outside of that messy, clunky finale, the rest of the film is incredibly strong and it is still a tale well-worth checking out. It's absolutely awe- inspiring sense of primal fear, wonderful performances and wicked entertainment value make it a great go-to for Halloween-night viewings or checking out with a big group of friends in the dark. It's not a perfect film. But it's a very solid and scary experience that I completely recommend to all fans of horror.

I give "Sinister" a very good 8 out of 10.

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