"Sinister" is the most downright, flat-out scary movie I've ever seen. I screamed several times, scaring my cats each time. The next day I watched the film a second time and screamed again in the same places. I'm telling you, the movie is SCARY! OK, why is it so frightening? One preview showed the director saying that Ethan Hawke was the only actor he wanted to play the main character. Personally, I'm not sure why. Although Hawke's acting was superlative in the role, I don't know why another actor couldn't have replaced him. Let's see: Gerard Butler is too hunky, DiCaprio is too introspective, Ryan Phillipe is too self-focused, Ryan Gosling boils with emotion, Jason Statham is too intense, Paul Rudd, maybe, but too bland. Ethan Hawke is perfect. The director is right.
The plot itself involves a writer with one famous book and several weak ones. This time, he thinks, he will move his family (they move with every book) into the very house where a horrific crime took place. Hawke's character believes that living in the very crime scene will invigorate his writing. He is desperately seeking another 15 minutes of fame.
His family know about the crime, but not about the house. His 7- or 8-year-old daughter, a budding artist, is allowed to draw on her bedroom walls. When she starts drawing scenes of the family who lived there on other walls, her mother is annoyed, but not for the right reason. Hawke knows but cannot share. The daughter has drawn a picture of the previous little girl, sitting in a tire swing. He recognizes the source of the drawing immediately as one taken from an 8-mm movie, one of several he found in a wooden box in the attic. The film shows the murder of the family taking place and the disappearance of the family's little girl. We see his stunned face and his closed-mouth reaction to that drawing. He is not going to jeopardize his chance at writing the next best-selling true crime story.
Really strange things go on in this house, late at night, while the family is sleeping and Hawke is preparing to write. After he finds that box of films in the attic, he spends his time viewing them, each as horrifying as the previous, and thinks he has found a gold mine of information for writing the best ever crime story.
"1. threatening or portending evil, harm, or trouble; ominous: a sinister remark.2. bad, evil, base, or wicked" --from Dictionary Online
The movie includes all these meanings and profoundly. He hears things, the viewer sees them. The director uses every available tool to enhance the building of suspense and fear-- planting little things in the story which impact it later (ex. the drawing on the wall), setting the story in the dark of night in the shadows, the music in which the beat is repetitive of the clicking sound of the 8-mm machine running.
I'm not telling any more. Each viewer--who is brave enough--should experience the movie personally and individually, not knowing much in advance. I've given you all you need. But, again, be warned: "Sinister" is truly a scary movie.
I must also add that there is a moral to this story. It will be obvious.