Originally Published on Horror Buffs – October 2012
Ever since Ringu  rose to popularity in North America, there has been a cultural fixation with the Found Footage subgenre and the motifs and conventions of this original masterwork have been appropriated and cannibalized countless times. Sinister  marks an attempt to not only capitalize on the ongoing popularity of this subgenre, but to also incorporate and infuse it with one of the most pan-cultural Horror figures of all time – the boogeyman.
As an entity, the boogeyman appears, in some iteration, in virtually every culture spanning the globe. His name varies with the idioms of the culture however his motifs are alarmingly consistent – he is an abductor of children. The tale of the boogeyman is told to children, usually by parents, to make them compliant. The term ‘boogeyman’ is often used by children as a blanket term to provide an identity to an ambiguous figure and connotes a sense of fear towards the unknown. These motifs are married with the Found Footage subgenre and the result is an adaption of the childhood anxieties of feeling powerless against an unseen assailant with incomprehensible potential.
Sinister introduces true-crime writer Ellison (Ethan Hawke) who becomes enamoured with a box of home movies he finds in his attic. The box contains several reels of footage, each from a different family, dating back to the 60’s. Each film begins with seemingly innocent family footage, yet mid way through there is a break in continuity and the film depicts the execution of the family. Convinced that the key to unlocking the identity of the killer must lie within some yet undiscovered detail of these films, Ellison becomes consumed with the pursuit, forsaking his family and even turning to alcoholism, moderate at first but ultimately to excess. He discovers both a mysterious figure as well a strange symbol, which he later learns is that of Bughuul (Nicholas King), a demon which feeds upon children. As his pursuit of this new evidence draws him closer to unraveling the Bughuul mystery, the strange occurrences around his house intensify.
Situating Ellison as the films central character, the film is able to assume an adult perspective on an otherwise childhood anxiety. Formerly, anxieties surrounding the boogeyman are those of a child, fearing abduction by him. In Sinister, however, Ellison is endeavouring to uncover the identity of the killer and put an end to his reign of terror. In doing so, the film infuses an adult sense of logic when approaching the cases, a quality which serves him detrimentally towards his uncovering of the truth.
The mind of a child in contrast with that of an adult is differentiated by a willingness to lend credence to the absurd. To a child, an entity with the supernatural powers of Bughuul becomes entirely plausible when unhampered by an overarching need to comprehend a situation by a predefined system of logic. This mindset is oft ridiculed by adults for its sheer improbability and absurdity. This dismissive posture is reflective of an inability to accept or comprehend that which cannot be hastily understood and explained. Ellison, in lacking this childlike ability to become receptive to the absurd prohibits him from fully grasping the nature of the creature that he is pursuing. Conversely, this willingness to entertain the absurd may be correlated with Bughuul’s influence over his victims, similar in how fact undermines faith. The result is that Buguul’s interests are focused on those who he is more readily able to coerce – children.
The film incorporates an interesting dynamic to the boogeyman as Bughuul possesses the ability to inhabit his own image – an image of Bughuul harbours the potential to become Bughuul. This mechanic has a real world application towards explaining how so similar a comprehension of the same figure can appear across so many cultures. This lends a heightened sense of plausibility to the narrative as it validates the naive sense of irrational fear experienced by the audience at one time or the other during childhood.
While the gross majority of the film’s horror hinges exclusively on ‘boo!’ style scares, it succeeds in creating some chilling moments. The films total run time, entrenching dangerously close to the two hour mark, the narrative begins to feel overdrawn, weak, and suffering from a loss of effectiveness towards generating tension as such frightful moments become too scarcely encountered. Ellison’s alcoholism and the disintegration of the family unit as a result of his obsession doesn’t incorporate well with the events surrounding his investigation of Bughuul and feel as though rather than there being an interconnection between these two narratives, they are two tangents progressing independently of one other.
The film does possess a somewhat playful quality, given the nature of Bughuul. There are scenes in which he appears to break the fourth wall and stares directly at the audience, as by this time in the narrative the mythology of Bughuul is established and the spectators are acutely aware of the fact that they are watching a film about a creature capable of residing within his own image.
While the overall feeling of the film is modestly successful, one cannot help but ponder the potential for the film had it been tightened down in editing and kept it to a more appropriate 90-100 minutes. While not up to the standards of Ringu or even the North American adaptation, The Ring , Sinister incorporates several intriguing elements from across the genre as well as cultural mythology. It’s limited by the fact that the nature of the film is that of a discovery process, not unlike that of Paranormal Activitiy  and upon the revelation of the twist finale, the film loses subsequent replay value. The reality is that the film may be consigned to just an entertaining one time viewing only.
- Effectively creepy moments
- Good performances
- Too long
- Story elements are uneven and don't work together