Sinister Director Interview

Halloween is about to come early with the release of spooky, Ethan Hawke-starring thriller Sinister . We spoke to director/screenwriter Scott Derrickson ( The Exorcism Of Emily Rose , The Day The Earth Stood Still ) about putting the haunt in haunted house.

Sinister is released by Momentum Pictures on Friday 5 October.

Words: Rosie Fletcher

How did Sinister originate?
The idea for Sinister came to my co-writer, C Robert Cargill, in a dream he had the night he saw The Ring . Cargill and I were friends online, and had only met once in person; but then, two years ago on a cool January night in Las Vegas, I ran into Cargill and we decided to meet for drinks well after midnight. He drank five White Russians then proceeded to tell me the idea for Sinister . I was hooked.

What sold you on the concept?
I was attracted to the idea of movie that isn't actually found footage, but is about the guy who finds the footage. I also loved the cinematic possibilities of the Super 8 films themselves, and the fact that it had a franchise bogeyman in it.

What do you think the scariest things about the film are? [MINOR SPOILERS]
I think the voyeuristic quality of the films is at the core. The idea that both the character in the movie, and the audience, are watching something truly horrifying that they really shouldn't be watching. And the idea of a menacing supernatural figure that resides within the films themselves – that's a scary concept.

Why did you choose to cast Ethan Hawke in the lead role?
During the casting stage I toiled for weeks over which actor should play Ellison Oswalt. My fear was that, because Ellison is such a flawed character, the audience may turn on him. I decided on Ethan because I knew that he could play this deeply flawed character without the audience losing interest in him.

The mythology in the movie and the character of "Mr Boogie" feel very original. How did this develop?
Cargill is a bit of an expert in fantasy and pagan mythology, so he had a deep reservoir of ideas to draw from – but still, it is all original. We didn't want the typical Christian demon or undead human as our franchise villain, we wanted something fresh.

What do you think is important when directing a good scare?
A good scare is easy. Building tension before the scare is the hard part. Nothing is worse than a cheap jump scare that hasn't been earned. Audiences feel that cheapness, and they may laugh at the jump, but they also know the movie isn't quality.

As with Insidious (which has producer Jason Blum in common), the budget on this film was quite modest – it often seems to be the case that lower budget horror is more inventive and successful. Do you think there's any correlation there?
Absolutely. You often have more control with lower budgets, and when problems arise you have to solve them with your mind and not money. Orson Wells said something like "The absence of boundaries is the enemy of art." With horror, the limitations force you to make things scary without showing too much.

You also directed The Exorcism Of Emily Rose – how did working on Sinister compare with that?
Both movies were very fulfilling and a lot of fun to make, but I feel like Sinister is a better film – mostly because I'm a more mature filmmaker now than I was then, and I had total creative control.