Sinister is a 2012 horror movie written by C. Robert Cargill note Of Spill and Ain't It Cool News fame, directed by Scott Derrickson, and stars Ethan Hawke as a True Crime writer who is desperate to write a new hit. In order to do so, he moves his family into the house where a grisly murder took place, so that he can write a book solving the case. When he finds a collection of home movies in the attic, he finds that there is more to the case than he thought...Has now been confirmed to have a sequel in the works.
This movie series contains examples of:
Apocalyptic Log: Used and mildly deconstructed. The logs are actually made by the Bughuul's servants and are haunted by him. The logs are the cause of the apocalypse.
Adult Fear: What's the most pressing fear in our hero's life? Alienating his family in pursuit of fame. This leads him to brush off the supernatural threat as nerves until it's too late to stop.
Having to subject himself to soul-searingly awful imagery just to get his work done.
Having one's children come into harm's way, and watch horrible things happen to kids that's at your children's age.
Animal Motifs: Judging by the Middle Age woodcut prints, Bughuul is associated with scorpions.
Dogs and snakes are shown as well. A bit of Fridge Brilliance, since all three were seen in places Bughuul had just been. Scorpions and snakes are also poisonous, fitting in with the mysterious poison used to paralyze the victims to allow for elaborate executions.
The Bad Guy Wins: Mr. Boogie has Ashley murder her family, then carries her over into his world.
Chekhov's Gun: When Ellison spots a huge scorpion in his attic, he drops a heavy box on top of it, breaking and sinking a few of the boards, much to his chagrin. Later, when investigating odd noises in the attic during a blackout, he unknowingly steps on those weakened boards and falls through. While he's able to hang on for a few moments, it is later revealed that Bughuul's stolen children pulled him all the way down.
A much more subtle one, almost qualifying for a Rewatch Bonus, on Ellison's first viewings of the movies, you can see in all of them at some point the glowing green drug used by Ashley at the end.
Chekhov's Skill: Ashley's ability to paint. Bughuul had extra fun with this; while the other children merely drew his sigil, he had Ashley turn entire hallways into horrific displays in his honor, all out of her own family's blood. Her knowing how to make dad's coffee is a smaller, but equally sadistic, Chekhov's skill.
Child Eater: Bughuul, the "Eater of Children". It's more of a "consume your soul" type deal, but his followers apparently took it a bit literally. The 'eating' part appears to happen VERY SLOWLY - when Bughuul's former victims are seen, they appear to be in various stages of decomposition - presumably the reason there are only the 5 of them is that the previous ones have been completely consumed.
Creepy Child: In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, when they are in the car and Ellison tells his daughter that yes, they are going back to their old house, she flashes a REALLY creepy smile for just a moment.
Cruel and Unusual Death: The murders are incredibly disturbing, and only the most gruesome ones get a Gory Discretion Shot. The last murder also cuts away right before the fact, but Ashley's drawing of it spares no details.
Death by Irony: In a manner of speaking. As far as we know, these aren't Karmic Deaths, since there's no evidence the victims aren't innocent, but most of the Super 8 films demonstrate this trope: three of the films each introduce a motif in the family's daily life before revealing that the murder is inspired by that motif. The tire swing inspires "Family Hanging Out"; "BBQ" opens with footage of a normal barbecue; and "Pool Party" is obviously only possible because the family owned a pool. The last two films to be shown flout this pattern, since "Sleepy Time" features no buildup before the murder scene, and "Lawn Work" starts with some Red Herring footage of the family just watching TV, but the end of the movie brings this trope back in full force when the latest murder turns out to have been foreshadowed by the daughter's penchant for wall-painting.
Deceptively Silly Title: All the Super 8 films have innocent titles, but they're all about murders. BBQ is the family burning in a car, Pool Party is a drowning, Family Hanging Out is a hanging, Lawn Work is a lawn mower attack, Sleepy Time is a family being murdered in their beds, and finally, "House Painting" is a family being cut up and the walls painted with their blood.
Demonic Possession: The true killer in the footage is the missing child of each family, who became a vessel for Bughuul's evil before joining him in his realm.
Downer Beginning: The opening scene is one of the most horrifying on-screen murders ever shown in a movie.
Downer Ending: The only thing stopping it from being mega-downer is that Detective So-and-So has just about all the information about Bughuul and the entire mystery, so it's very possible for him to prevent the deaths of any more families.
Enhance Button: Played with. Once he has learned to record the Super 8 projections with a digital camcorder, Ellison uses the files to examine the videos frame by frame, capture stills, and print images. Zooming into Bughuul's face usually pixelates the hell out of it, but in one notable occasion it comes out in such clear detail, Ellison himself is startled by it.
Note that Bughuul lives in pictures. It was probably him!
Evil-Detecting Dog: Ellison is spooked by a stray dog which wanders into his yard and growls at him. The camera shows that it is in fact growling at the ghost kids standing behind him.
Might be a subversion though; dogs were one of the animals associated with Bughuul, and like the scorpion and snake, were all seen in locations Bughuul had just been present in.
Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Ellison's motivation for sticking around the house and not informing the police, despite the fact that he has discovered hard evidence of a serial killing. Scenes throughout the movie showed that his previous book Kentucky Blood was a great hit. He was unable to write a second big hit, and was unable to sustain the mortgage on his big mansion. He refuses to demean himself into writing textbooks, and hopes the murders can be his next big hit. The extent of this is only revealed near the end, where their old house is shown to be a two story mansion.
While Ellison isn't looking, Bughuul moves in the picture on the laptop to stare at him. It seems minor at first, until we learn Bughuul's method of haunting near the end.
Early in the film, it was pointed out that the executions were done after the victims were drugged, removing the need to overpower them, and one child from the family was never found. It was finally revealed that the missing children drugged their families before staging elaborate kills.
During a discussion with his wife over living on the same house that the family died on, Ellison tells his wife the family didn't die inside the house and that "they didn't have to wash the blood off the walls". But they will have to in his family's case, given Ashley's painting skills.
For the Evulz/Human Sacrifice: The reason why Bughuul makes the children kill their own families before spiriting them away, which he could have done at any time without involving said families, is up for interpretation. The way he makes them label the "Home Videos" with ironic titles, as well as the variety and creativity of the murders, hints at least a touch of sheer sadism and possibly to goad potential victims to watch the movies and unknowingly summon him.
The very last shot is a Jump Scare where Bughuul appears and stares out of the screen. He's looking at you.
Genre Savvy: Deputy So-and-So is quite genre savvy and never lets our protagonist down.
Our protagonist only displays a bit of savvyness at the end, when it's become readily apparent that he's in a horror movie and it's not just nerves and bad dreams, he acts like it. Unfortunately, as he finds out too late, so is Bughuul. Sweet dreams.
Idiot Ball: Grabbed firmly and lovingly by Ellison several times:
He chooses not to turn the evidence to the sheriff, choosing to investigate the murders on his own.
After he falls through the attic floor in the blackout, he opens the camera recording of himself and sees little ghost hands around him as he tries to hang on to the hole, and doesn't do anything about it.
After "escaping" Bughuul by leaving what he believes is a haunted house, Ellison chooses to ignore the Deputy's call during the entire day, and only answers at the worst possible time: at night, after having drunk the coffee drugged by his daughter.
Having just heard from the occult researcher about Bughuul haunting images of itself, what does Ellison do when he gets the "Extended Cuts" dumped into his lap with a brand new set of films and projector? He painstakingly matches up the cuts with the original films, edits them back together, and watches them. At no point during this lengthy process does he stop to think it might not be a good idea to continue Tempting Fate.
I Drank What?: Near the ending, Ellison glimpses into his coffee cup only to see a faint glowing residue at the bottom. Then he starts to lose strength...
I Need a Freaking Drink: Ellison hits the bottle pretty hard. It's ambiguous as to if he has a problem with drinking or if the things he's experiencing are just that terrible.
Infant Immortality: Averted from the first few frames. They still cut away from the most graphic child-deaths, though, or show them only out of focus.
Jerk Ass: Ellison has shades of this. He brushes off his kids so much that it would be safe to consider it some early form of Parental Abandonment, has a drinking problem (although justified with the things he uses it to cope with), and destroys his relationship with his family by moving to the house for another book. He starts to change near the end, although an axe to the head stops character development for him.
Jump Scare: A number of them throughout the movie.
The Knights Who Say Squee: Deputy So-and-So is actually quite competent, eloquent, and does a decent job piecing together the mystery even when Ellison feeds him only small tidbits of information. He just gives the wrong first impression because he's absolutely starstruck with meeting the author of one of his favorite books, and his eagerness to help and earn a note in Ellison's Acknowledgments page annoys the writer.
Limited Wardrobe: Work-at-home Ellison spends his time indoors (that is, 90% of the movie, spanning a couple of weeks) wearing an old gray sweater.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Trevor's night terrors are one of the ambiguities - is he having night terrors because of Bughuul, or is it just a coincidence? In-universe, this is why Ellison persists in spite of the creepy things he sees: since This Is Reality, and many of the things he sees can have mundane causes, he doesn't assume anything is supernaturally wrong until it is no longer "maybe."
Metaphorically True: Ellison assures Stacy that this time, they had not moved a few blocks away from a murder scene for his new true crime book. They are actually at the murder scene itself.
"No, they weren't killed in the house. In the backyard."
Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: The interior of the lid of the "Home Movies" box, with childish drawings depicting the murders. And every new child adds his or her own family to it before leaving this world.
Ashley's wall painting starts off pretty innocently, until Bughuul's influence changes them.
No Peripheral Vision: One scene has a ghost-girl's face appear to the left of Ellison's, only for him not to notice. This is used to establish he can't actually see them.
Nothing Is Scarier: The "Lawn Work" reel, which has you waiting on the edge of your seat, knowing what WILL happen, but the Scare Chord will still make you jump.
Ellison and Deputy So-and-So's conversation in the living room after Ellison falls asleep with the baseball bat. It's just the two of them discussing the goings-on of the past few days, but the tension in this scene is damn near unbearable.
The cinematography also features a lot of shots where the characters have their backs to a long dark corridor, and viewers kept expecting something to appear.
The Oner: Used to heart-stoppingly good effect in "Lawn Work", the majority of which is one long shot angled downward on a moving lawnmower. You know damn well the mower's about to run over something it shouldn't, but thanks to the perspective of the long take, there's no warning before the inevitable happens.
Opaque Lenses: The camera pulls away from the Sleepy Time home movie, but shows the actual murder through the reflection on Ellison's glasses.
Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Though he's never called a ghoul, Baghuul is quite similar to the demonic ghouls of Arabic folklore and the Gallu of the ancient Mesopotamian religions.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Although the Sheriff's taunt had set up the movie, he does have a point that Ellison choosing to stay in the murder scene to write his true crime novel is a very disrepectful thing to do. Additionally, when Ellison is leaving, the Sheriff is actually concerned that somebody has driven him out of town, and declines to write him a ticket, even though Ellison was speeding.
Religion of Evil: In the backstory where some children were sacrificed to an evil god.
The Reveal: In the penultimate scene, Ellison is told that Bughuul haunts images, not houses. The "Extended Cut" footage reveals the missing children as their own families' murderers.
Rule of Scary: Despite fifty years of technological innovation, Bughuul seems to prefer Super 8 film over any other medium. It's most likely because it's relatively easy to edit Super 8 film, thus enabling him to hold back the information until it's too late to do something about it, though for practical purposes it's because the silent Super 8 films are just that much scarier.
Sadistic Choice: The choice someone has (whether they realize it or not) after Bughuul starts pursuing them is to either move away and be killed brutally by their own child, or to stay in the house haunted by Bughuul and be terrorized by a Pagan god whose only goal literally is to mentally destroy his prey for the rest of their life.
Schmuck Bait: The Super 8 reels and projector, which Bughuul leaves in the attic whenever a new family moves in.
Taken even further when Ellison moves his family back to their old house, and Buhguul leaves the "Extended Cut" endings in his attic. His curiosity gets the better of him once again.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Ultimately, Ellison just becomes another victim and Bughuul's method succeeds without fail.
Spoiler Opening: The very first thing we see is footage of a family of four, bags on heads, ropes tied to a branch, slowly being lifted into the air. We later see a reel in the family's former home labelled "Family Hanging Out". What do you think happens in it?
Tragic Mistake: After he watches the first reel, Ellison understandably calls the police to report it. However, after being taunted by the sheriff earlier and realizing this could be his next big break, he hangs up, screwing everyone in his family.