It's also how you craft a film that's all but guaranteed to disturb even the most jaded of horror lovers. Credit such lasting effects on Sinister's unflinching bleakness; from its opening shot, Cargill's nightmare of the noosed-up family brought to cinematic life, through its brilliantly macabre, darkly hilarious, E.C. Comics-evoking final line of downbeat dialogue, Sinister rides the course of pure horror. "I've been a critic for 10 years, and I've seen my share of horror, I've seen your share of horror, and I've seen his share of horror," says Cargill. "I know that horror moves in waves. I remember one year at [the Austin, TX, annual genre movie festival] Fantastic Fest we played 'Bear Trap Bingo' because there were five horror movies playing at the festival that all had a bear trap kill. The idea for Sinister was to try to zig while everyone else zagged."
What makes a really good horror movie work most of the time is giving the audience something that lingers. Audiences aren't afraid of movies being dark or bleak if they're good. - Scott Derrickson

Derrickson, for his part, sees Sinister as a real against-the-grain response to the genre's current in vogue trend: found-footage. "I remember how amazing it was when U2's Achtung Baby came out in the heart of this bigger movement," he says. "There was this huge ocean of amazing music and here comes U2 making one of the best records of their career and going totally against the grain of what everybody else was doing. I loved that."

"For me, I really have appreciated what's been happening with found-footage movies, and I love Paranormal Activity," adds Derrickson. "That movie was perhaps the most afraid I've ever been in a theater watching a horror movie. But the thing I don't like about the found-footage genre is the loss of cinematic imagery. Yes, there's something dynamic and marvelous about capturing realism in a super-low-budget, super simple way that feels like home videos and web-cams, but I love film images, and I love pure cinema. So I think where I was coming from was wanting to make a serious, scary horror film that took images and sound design and taking them more seriously than horror directors tend to."

Most importantly, though, the filmmakers didn't want audience members exiting the theater on any kind of uplifting high. As previously mentioned, Sinister's conclusion is a real downer, which shouldn't be considered a spoiler—after all, it is a horror movie. "If the ending isn't to punish the audience but to naturally end the story, the audience will buy it," says Cargill. "What most people forget is that almost all of the greatest horror movies ever made, the ones that everybody thinks are the amazing horror movies, all end terribly. The Shining. The Omen…. They killed Gregory Peck at the end of The Omen! The priest dies at the end of The Exorcist. Rosemary [in Rosemary's Baby] has the baby and the baby is the Antichrist."

"There are so many great horror movies that don't end happily, or if anyone gets away they don't really get away," adds Cargill. "Like, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the girl gets away but you know that girl is fucked up for life. Everybody forgets that those films are all classic films because they have the perfect tone and ending for the movie they made, and as long as a bleak ending is earned, it can make for a really great horror film. The ones that are bad with bleak endings are the ones that are like, 'Ha ha! This will fuck with the audience!' And you don't fuck with the audience."

It circles all the way back to the movie that inspired Cargill in the first place. "The ending to The Ring is incredibly dark," says Derrickson. "The ending to The Ring is this decision they make to release this horror onto the world for their own preservation. If a horror movie is really good and you give it the uptick ending and the protagonist wins and everything's fine, it loses its staying power. People don't end up thinking about it afterwards. What makes a really good horror movie work most of the time is giving the audience something that lingers. When we tested [Sinister], it tested higher than Paranormal Activity and Insidious and Emily Rose. That just proves that audiences aren't afraid of movies being dark or bleak if they're good."

When all's said and done, it just might be the film's final line of dialogue that seals the thumbs-up deal for audiences. That was certainly the case for Hawke. "The last line won me over, because I realized, OK, Scott knows the movie that he wants to make," he says. "It has so much wit, it's so mean, but it's also so funny, I think, and terrifying. I've always been more drawn to independent movies, and the thing that's special about Sinister is that, if you think about it, it's the kind of horror movie that a studio would never have made. What happens in this movie doesn't normally happen in a studio movie."

Concludes Hawke, "Once we did that opening image of the tree, from that moment on I knew that the movie was going to be good."

Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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