If I can use one word to describe the 2012 horror flick, Sinister, it is this: disturbing. But it did receive some decent reviews (a few “jump scares” and horror tropes notwithstanding), and it made a ton of money over its production budget. And, most important for this series, its main character was a writer.


With that rather bland tagline, here is a brief overview of Sinister. I opted not to do a full or even partial synopsis, because there are just too many key plot points I’d rather hold back, lest you’re motivated to view this nightmarish story.

True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) had a big bestseller over a decade ago. But two subsequent flops have him and his family, wife Tracy, preteen Trevor, and 7-year-old Ashley, in financial trouble. In an effort at a comeback, Ellison moves his family into a house in a small Pennsylvania town where, years earlier, the Stevenson family, all but 10-year-old Stephanie, died by hanging in their backyard. The crime was never solved, nor was Stephanie ever found. To avoid conflict with his family, Ellison does not tell them that they were murdered in that particular house. (Asshole!) They will all suffer the effects of what occurred there.

“Family Hanging Out.” Whoever did this to the Stevensons had a sick sense of humor.


Up in the (creepy) attic, Ellison finds a box containing a live scorpion (I’m not making this up), an old projector, and reels of Super 8 film with homey titles such as Family Hanging Out, Pool Party, Sleepy Time, and others. He views the first one and is stunned to see that it is a snuff film of the Stevensons hanging from a tree limb. We get a glimpse of daughter Stephanie in the film, but not of who is committing the murders, nor who shot the footage.

Ellison watches the other footage, all of which are snuff films of murders committed in horrific ways. The reels are dated, with many years between each of the murders. With the help of a local deputy—his number one fan—Ellison also discovers that the killings took place in different parts of the country. So they can’t possibly be related, he muses—or can they be?

Writer Ellison Oswalt has no clue what demons he’s unleashed.

Like I said, I won’t go any farther than this, except to pay off on that tagline. Once you see who? Ellison notices an odd symbol in each of the films and is told by an occult specialist that it might represent an ancient Babylonian god (made me think of Ghostbusters) called Bughuul, who was said to murder families and take one of their children in order to consume their souls slowly. Our somewhat left-brained writer (an oxymoron?) wouldn’t go that far, but he does pursue a line of research involving a cult initiation ritual.

So will he learn the answer? And if he does, what price will he pay?

As you can imagine, Sinister is not for everyone. A strong stomach is a prerequisite. But its success did spawn a sequel, which most considered inferior. No surprise there.

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