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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Sinister’ (2012)

‘Obsessed Writer Trope: The Movie’

Yeah, you know this movie really wasn’t that bad. It got a lot of shit for shameless jump-scares and thoughtlessly rehashed tropes. Even Stephen King should be mad at this movie for stealing his “obsessed writer gets caught up in horror” trope. I kid but honestly, this did have a similar feel as dozens of Stephen King adaptations because of how often he uses the obsessed writer trope.

So this movie was largely piecemeal tropes. Not a big deal. Movies that are piecemeal tropes are pretty standard. Honestly, especially in horror, most of the classics are a piecemeal of tropes with their own spin. Sure “The boogieman” trope isn’t anything new, just like “The Obsessed Writer” or “The supernatural turns out to be real.” But neither are the dozens of possession film tropes, and haunted house tropes, and creepy kid tropes. As long as the writer and director can do something interesting and unique with the tropes, it’s fine. This movie just didn’t a great job of hiding these tropes in the plot as others films.

It was also a bit of a bandwagon movie, in direct line with Insidious (2010), and The Conjuring franchise. All three of these followed the same tropes with different mythos. I’ll probably do a review of those eventually. But in my humble opinion, this was slightly better.

Really, the only thing I found grating was that fact that they ‘Spoon Fed The Villain,’ bordering on Deus Ex Machina. Sure they explain that it’s all just the game Bughuul plays, but it doesn’t really seem all that clever and comes off as forced. More on that in the spoilers.

The thing is, the atmosphere, setting, and cinematography are actually pretty solid (outside of the shameless, unearned, jump-scares). They do a solid job of building slow and consistent tension, even without the supernatural elements. Leaning hard of the ‘Obsessed Writer’ trope, Ellison comes off as a man coming to pieces. In this sense, it would have been perfectly acceptable for there to be no Bughuul. They could have gone another direction and had Ellison go crazy and murder his whole family, in a downward spiral of drunken madness (not a spoiler, that didn’t happen).

To complement this, the acting was actually pretty solid. Ellison (Ethan Hawk) and Tracey (Juliet Rylance), do an amazing job showcasing a marriage coming undone. Even the children’s roles and ‘Simpleton small-town cop’ tropes were really well acted. The one little girl is reminiscent of Gage from the original Pet Sematary (1989).

And I have to say one more thing about the atmosphere as I’m often to point this out. The movie was dark, nigh impossible to see without the lights off, which is always a smart way to force the audience to set the mood.

I can recommend this to general adult audiences as all the tropes make it fairly digestible. Horror Heads might be a bit over the whole ‘shameless jump scare’ thing all these years later, but also might still enjoy it for the plot and mythos alone. It’s also kinda riffable, if you want to give it the old college try. It’s not a ‘must watch’ by any stretch of the imagination and not gonna end up on my ‘All-Time Top’ list, but it was good.


I can’t avoid talking about the fact that the whole movie is set up as kind of an elaborate trap that runs raw against its own mythos. It’s revealed at the end, as a sort of twist, that Bughuul marks the family who moves into the house of a previous victim but doesn’t kill them until they move to their next house. That means Bughuul would have to run every family out to guarantee they would move, or it would end the pattern. Yet, in the reports, and from the testimony of the deputy, nothing like that had ever been reported. They go so far as to actually state the last family never once called the cops or reported any complaints.

They play it off as kind of a game, where Bughuul marks, then manipulates the family into moving into the next house okay, how? Literally, the only person that would ever have a reason to do something like that was Ellison, because he was a writer tracing a string of murders. It would mean every family would have to have found and watched the 8mm film and never report the films to the cops. Only Ellison’s ‘obsessed writer’ trope would allow for that in the storyline. At least one, but likely all of the other families would have turned the film over to the police, if they even bothered to watch them, and didn’t just throw them in the garbage.

It’s also completely inexplicable that police would never pick up on these murders being linked. Bughuul might have different forms of dispatching his victims, but he leaves an obvious calling card. There are, what, five murders before the current one? It wouldn’t even matter if they were all hundreds of years apart, because they would at least have the common sense to see a conspiracy, even if they could believe it was a single person. Maybe one small-town investigation wouldn’t be able to recognize it, but five?

Overall, these problems with the plot are easy to overlook, and nowhere near as offensive as the shameless jump-scares this movie shoehorned in.

I can still recommend it.

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