Having recently ranked highly on our list of the scariest horror movies of all time, Sinister seems the perfect movie to induct into Corner of Film’s Hall of Fame this Halloween. The 2012 film somehow flew under the radar for many, but is often cited as one of the best modern horror movies. Over a decade later, it still holds up perfectly, and likely will for years to come.

Sinister‘s story follows Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime writer hoping to strike it big with his next book. Unbeknownst to his wife and children, their new home was actually the site of a grisly crime in which four the previous residents were murdered and their still-missing daughter was taken from their home. After Ellison finds a box of “home movies” in the attic depicting various violent crimes, he begins to find himself at the heart of an ongoing supernatural ordeal that threatens his entire family’s existence.

In general terms, Sinister‘s plot is relatively unremarkable. It’s an interesting premise, for sure, but it’s also the sort of story that’s often wasted by the horror genre due to an overreliance on jump scares or a needless focus on excessive violence or gore. However, Sinister does none of that, avoiding the pitfalls and simply proving itself a truly terrifying watch.

Sinister Is An Unforgettable Slow-Burn Horror

Ethan Hawke standing by a fire in Sinister (2012)

Sinister wastes no time getting to the meat of its plot. With a relatively small cast and only a handful of locations, much of the tension relies on the performances of Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance as Ellison and Tracy Oswalt respectively. Ellison’s mounting obsession and fear cause ripples through his family that are exacerbated by the malevolent forces at work, but carrying that off well hinges entirely upon Hawke’s talents as an actor. Thankfully, he delivers in spades.

As Ellison’s work uncovers the truth of the murders, he becomes increasingly concerned for his family’s welfare. Sinister builds scene-on-scene, offering up tense and terrifying moments that perfectly communicate the protagonist’s own fear and paranoia as the darkness creeps ever closer. All that services a truly staggering third-act payoff that’s genuinely haunting in its brutality.

Sinister’s Story Explores The Dark Perils Of Curiosity & Ambition

Ethan Hawke stand in front of a projector in Sinister (2012)

On a deeper level, Sinister‘s plot is something of a cautionary tale (as most good horror seems to be). As Ellison becomes increasingly obsessed with recapturing former successes, he loses sight of the danger to himself and his family. He allows himself to head too deep into uncharted territory, and he and his family pay the price. It’s dark and it’s symbolic – perfect horror fare, in other words.

In essence, Sinister is a near-perfect horror movie. Its use of a small cast only highlights Ellison’s own ever-shrinking world as he focuses more and more on his work, eventually collapsing in on itself in a moment of unforgettable revelation. It’s something that makes Sinister work on multiple levels, and contributes to its truly world-class scares.

Rating: 75%

Summary: It’s far from a perfect movie, but Sinister is wickedly scary horror with unexpected depth.

Highlight: For the masochists, it’s probably the jarring fight of the lawn mower scene, but the film’s final revelation is also wonderfully executed.