For all the trash talking I do on modern horror, I tend to enjoy the films of Scott Derrickson. From The Exorcism of Emily Rose to Dr. Strange and Deliver Us From Evil, his films have come from a unique place and have had surprises packed within them. The two Sinister films — he only co-wrote the sequel — are darker and stranger than mainstream 2000’s horror films have any right to be.
Ellison Oswalt (named for Harlan Ellison and Patton Oswalt; played by Ethan Hawke) writes true crime and to get the material he needs for his next book, he’s moved his family into the home where a family was lynched in their own backyard. He hopes that by living there, he’ll discover the fate of the one family member who survived.
Inside the house, there’s a box that contains a Super 8 projector and several home movies. They’re actually snuff films of various families being wiped out as an unseen cameraman records the death, always concentrating on a mysterious symbol. These movies are the true heart of this film, shot on real Super 8 and appearing to come from another universe thanks to stark lighting and ambient music from black metal bands Ulver and Aghast, as well as Boards of Canada.
In fact, the creature behind all of this throat slashing, drowning and burning is named Bughuul, a strange masked demon that also looks like he walked out of Helvete. He’s a Babylonian demon that coerces children to kill their families and then give their souls to him.
Ethan Hawke had never seen the films prior to filming the movie, so all of his reactions are 100% genuine.
Thanks to the Sheriff (Fred Thompson) and Deputy So & So (James Ransome, who would return for the second movie), Ellison soon learns that these ritualistic murders have been going on since at least the 1960’s.
After leaving the projector on one night leads to all of the missing children entering his house and Bughuul physically attacking him, Ellison decides to leave the house behind. He connects with occult expert Professor Jonas (Vincent D’Onofrio), who tells him that the image of the demon is how it can possess children and enter our world.
The real insight is that every murdered family had previously lived in the house where the last murder took place, and each new murder occurred shortly after the family moved from the crime scene into their new residence. By moving, Ellison has doomed his family, as the projector and the films appear in his new house.
Now, the missing children appear along with each murder on film, as Ellison’s daughter Ashley methodically murders each of her family members with an axe before the demon lifts her into his arms and disappears, leaving behind a new film labeled “House Painting ’12” so that the cycle of death can continue all over again.
This is but one film franchise where Ethan Hawke was killed in the first installment and I ended up liking the next movie much better. The other would be, of course, The Purge.