See It or Skip It: Sinister

The demonic character in Sinister reminds me a lot of the Slender Man, maybe not in looks (cause Slender Man has no face) but Bughuul’s definitely in Slender Man territory with the skulky, only seen in the back of photos and in reflections on film reels behavior he exhibits. I feared that maybe this film would take a lot of Slender Man lore and hide it under a different character, but Sinister doesn’t do that at all. In retrospect, maybe someone should’ve pointed the screenwriters towards the Slender Man Mythos, it might’ve helped their script out a little bit . . .

Sinister is the story of Ellison Walton, a crime writer who’s fame is ten years behind him with his first book, Kentucky Blood. He’s published two more but they weren’t nearly as successful, so he’s looking for a case that will re-ignite his fame. He moves his family to a murder house so that he can investigate the case and perhaps provide some new evidence that will help to solve the crime. He doesn’t let his family know that they’re living in the house where the murder took place, though his children might sense something, as his son’s night terrors come back and are worse than ever, and his little girl starts drawing murder scenes on the wall of her bedroom.

The further Ellison looks into the murder, the stranger things get. The youngest child, Stephanie, was not murdered, but she disappeared and no one knows where she is.

He finds a box of movies in the attic, and thinking that they’re a leftover from the murdered family, he starts to watch them, only to watch the family hang in his backyard. There are other films in the box, and he watches them all, finding each one to be a murder caught on film. But who’s doing the killing? He also notices a mysterious figure in each of the films that watches the murders but doesn’t seem to be a participant. In some of the films is a symbol, which he sends to an occult-crime expert for analyzing. The symbol belongs to a demon named Bughuul, also known as the Eater of Children’s Souls. It’s said that Bughuul lives in the images and can draw people into his realm through them. Ellison doesn’t seem to take any of this seriously, though he never investigates any other cause for the figure he sees in all the films.

Ellison watches and re-watches the films, looking for details and enlisting the help of a deputy to find out some of the details of the other crime scenes he’s found. The problem is that we sit and watch the same footage over and over and the movie never really moves beyond these scenes of murder, and they lose all their horror when repeated endlessly. It would’ve been better just to show the films once and then show Ellison watching and re-watching without the audience having to join him there. It would also free us of watching Ellison creep around his darkened house looking for whatever made the noise that spooked him, or whoever turned the 8mm film projector on in his office. This kind of thing works well once, but like watching the films, repeated viewing takes the edge off. It does work very well twice, but it would’ve been better for those incidents to be the only two that happen, and one is scary because the audience gets a glimpse of what’s really going on in the house.

Sinister has some scares, and while some of them are the ‘loud nose make you jump kind’ there are a few really good moments that slowly increase the tension and work well to keep the audience nervous. Jump scares are sometimes considered cheap, but I’ve been to a lot of horror movies by now, so I can sort of predict when they’re coming and so I don’t ever really jump, but Sinister’s got at least one moment where I did jump, and that made the movie all the more fun because they managed to surprise me. The other scares are more psychological, and there’s a deep sense of obsession on Ellison’s part, as he struggles to keep hidden the house’s secret past and fulfill his dream of writing the next great true crime novel. He’s not really interested in Bughuul, because he never really believes the supernatural events going on around him.

This is where the movie really misses out, I think, because I want to know more about Bughuul and his cult, not watch Ellison obsess over the tapes. The demon wasn’t very fleshed out, and I didn’t really buy that all the literature about it had been destroyed. The mechanism by which Bughuul chose which families to murder also seemed a bit weak, and Ellison sort of forgets about it during a scene in which he should’ve absolutely remembered it. I feel like a true crime writer, as obsessed with these murders and the films as he becomes, would have remembered, and that would have altered the outcome of the movie and been a lot more interesting. It wasn’t that the end was predictable, it just didn’t feel like the one Ellison, who’s a very smart man, had earned through the rest of the film.

Ultimately, I would say that Sinister is worth seeing. I enjoyed the film, though it definitely left me wanting more of Bughuul and less sneaking around the darkened house or watching films I’d seen already a bunch of times.

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