Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Sinister Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Scary, intense horror film involves kids and murder.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 15 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 70 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perhaps the biggest message here is "curiosity killed the cat," though the main character does eventually learn to put his family before his work.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character is a troubled writer who claims to be helping others but really seems more concerned with his own fame, fortune, and legacy. He does eventually learn to place his family's safety before these things, but it may be too late.


Genuinely scary/shocking moments. The main character watches Super 8 films with grisly scenes of murder, such as a group hanging, a family burned alive inside a car, a family drowned in a swimming pool, and people cut up by a power lawnmower. There are suggestions of slaughter and images of walls decorated with blood.


A married couple shares a couple of kisses and are shown sleeping in the same bed.


Language is infrequent but includes a few uses of "s--t." In one scene, a character says the word "f--king" but drops a couple of letters so that it's not quite clear. Characters also say "damn it," "goddamn," "Christ" (as an exclamation), and "oh my God."


The main character regularly uses an Apple computer and iPhone. The computer's screen and its various functions, commands, and applications -- such as Google, iChat, Safari, and QuickTime -- are shown often.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The main character is shown gulping down whisky during tense moments, though he's never shown drunk, and it's not established that he has a drinking problem. He's also seen drinking a beer at dinner, and he lights up a cigarette during one especially tense scene.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sinister -- a horror movie from the director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose -- is about a potentially supernatural killer and the disappearance of several children. It has some genuinely scary, tense, and shocking moments, including images of gruesome murders shown on Super 8 film footage. There's also a scene of blood spattered all over several walls. Language is a minor issue ("s--t" is used a couple of times), but the main character gulps whisky during tense moments and also smokes a cigarette.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byNatalia L. June 10, 2017


This movie is very dark and disturbing. It has many disturbing scenes and the whole plot is quite shocking (plus the movie itself is set in dark setting, which... Continue reading
Adult Written byb3laz3 April 26, 2021
Teen, 17 years old Written bypiperiscool November 9, 2019


i mean this was disturbing and gave me criminal minds vibes but at least mr boogie was kinda thicc slurpppp
Teen, 14 years old Written byShadowofchaos41 October 12, 2012

Terrible Just TERRIBLE

NO. JUST NO. Why would someone want to see something like this

What's the story?

True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) arrives in a small town with his wife (Juliet Rylance) and two kids -- Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) and Ashley (Clare Foley) -- in tow, preparing to work on his latest book. He's writing about a family of four that was murdered, hung simultaneously from a tree, after which the youngest daughter disappeared. Unfortunately, Ellison has chosen to move into the murder house itself, where he finds a box of Super 8 films that depict the actual murder, as well as several others. As he pieces the puzzle together, strange and terrifying things begin to happen. Ellison's life becomes a race to finish the book before he and his family become too deeply involved in a deadly situation.

Is it any good?

Writer/director Scott Derrickson has a touch for using old horror movie tools to create new scares, and he also incorporates several interesting themes into SINISTER. Even if some of his attempts don't quite work some of the time, he still gets credit for trying. To start, he's created an interesting character in Ellison, who's struggling between recapturing his former glory and keeping his family safe, pulled helplessly in two directions at once. And Hawke -- wearing a funny, puffy "grandpa" sweater and shoes -- emphasizes a fascinating clash between courage and weakness in his performance.

Derrickson does pack too many concepts into his story, mixing the supernatural with the mysterious, and it doesn't quite come together; the themes become jumbled up by the final payoff. But the movie has some terrifying, startling moments, mainly thanks to a crafty, strangely prickly music score by Christopher Young. Sinister won't hold up to scrutiny, but it's worth a look for horror fans.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Sinister's violence, which occurs mostly in the Super 8 films the main character watches. How did it affect you? How did it compare to other horror movies you've seen?

  • Is Sinister scary? What were the scariest parts? Were they sudden jumps, or did it feel slower and creepier?

  • What's the appeal of horror movies like Sinister?

  • How does the movie depict drinking? Are there realistic consequences?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love scares

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