“Sinister,” a new horror movie starring Ethan Hawke, asks a novel question about the found-footage genre and gets a terrifying answer. Who is the guy that finds all of this footage?
That question formed the foundation of the film, which was co-written by C. Robert Cargill, who previously wrote for Ain’t It Cool News under the alias Massawyrm.
MTV News spoke with Cargill about his work on “Sinister” and five of the key secrets behind the horror movie.
For Cargill, “Sinister” began as many of our scariest thoughts do: a nightmare. “It was something that just really unsettled me, and I realized this could make a good movie,” Cargill said. “When I started trying to put together how it could make a movie that would connect with people because it was something that scared me, and I thought it was something that would scare other people.”
When it came to turning that dream into a movie, Cargill found himself with a rare opportunity to literally turn his dreams into a viewable reality. “The nightmare itself was me going into my attic and finding a box of Super 8 film and a projector and spooling one of the films onto the projector, and it was the opening shot of the film,” he said.
Finding the Footage
Part of making a movie about the guy who finds the found footage, at least when it came to “Sinister,” was putting the audience in the shoes of Hawke’s character, Ellison Oswalt. To do this, Cargill and the film’s director and co-writer Scott Derrickson used specific techniques to create that connection.
“One of the big things that we do with the film is that we never show the audience anything that Ellison isn’t watching,” Cargill said. “Whenever Ellison turns away, we rack focus, and you don’t see it. If Ellison walks out of the room, we never show you the footage. We wanted to put you in the experience of watching these films yourself and watching them with Ellison, and Ellison is essentially you in the film, experiencing this. ”
Haunted by the Past
As a former critic and a first-time screenwriter, Cargill found himself in a unique situation. One credit on his résumé demands that he excel at the other. “[Criticism] is a weird profession,” he said. “It’s one of the few professions that people will walk up to you in the street and insult you. It’s like, ’Oh, hey, I watch your show every week. Your opinion is terrible. You’re awful. It was good meeting you.’ ”
To protect himself from the inevitable connection between his film and his previous line of work, Cargill focused on simply putting his best and only his best out there. “I knew that I was not going to be spared one lick, so I knew that my first effort had to kick ass,” he said. “It had to be the very best thing that I could churn out at the time. How do you go back to being a critic after you’ve made something that people don’t like? There are a couple guys who have done it, and every time they bash on something, somebody throws their previous work in their face.”
Making the Monster
At the heart of “Sinister” is Bughuul, an ancient evil spirit, who lives inside images and preys on children. As a fan of horror, Cargill knew that his first movie monster needed to stand out from the pack.
“The most important thing was staying true to the mythology and creating something new and scary,” Cargill said. “It’s something about the psychological terror that he imposes on his victims as opposed to just being another butcher. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t just somebody racking up a body count.”
Even Worse Endings
(Minor spoilers ahead.) Without going into specifics, “Sinister” doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a darker conclusion at the movies this year, but such a macabre ending was always the plan for Cargill, who believes for horror to really work, some bad stuff needs to actually happen.
“[The ending] came up very early on, and it was very essential. Everything that I pitched at that meeting is up on the screen and the core of the story. It was really essential for that story,” he said. “The idea of the story and where it goes and what the mechanics are of the supernatural story, it had to end that way. There was no other way to end it. … There are very few happy endings in great horror.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Sinister.”