A Haunted House
Sinister was shot in just 23 days, almost entirely in a ranch-style home on Long
Island that served
as both location and production headquarters for the film. "We shoot almost all
of our movies in Los
Angeles, but we decided to go with New York for this one," says Blum. "We have a
very specific system we
use that we brought to New York. We generally have very few trailers and very
few trucks. We try and
find a house where there's room for all of us to be there together. In this
case, we shot the entire movie
upstairs and the downstairs was makeup, hair, production offices and actors'
The close proximity encourages communication, he says. "I find that when you
have the people
who are making the movie all in the same place, the work is better. You're
forced to spend time together
and I find that it makes the work we're doing more resonant, just because people
are talking to each
Derrickson instructed production designer David Brisbin not to look for a
colonial for the Oswalds' new home. "The one thing I didn't want was the same
East Coast-looking house
that we've seen in everything from The Changeling to Amityville to The
Haunting," he says. "They all have
the same big menacing two-story house look. I wanted a long, flat, ranch house.
I knew I was going to be
doing a lot of shots of Ethan moving through the house and I wanted it to have a
All of the scenes set in the home were filmed there, except the attic scenes,
which were on a set.
"Even the backyard scenes were at that same location," says Derrickson. "You
have more control when
you're on a set, but I think limitations are your friend if you embrace them. We
used fluid shots moving
through the house, tracking characters and conversations for long takes that
became part of the aesthetic
of the movie. Not only did it add a lot to the look of the film, but it allowed
us to do scenes in one take.
When you give actors one long take like that, they get an energy and a dynamism
going that you tend to
lose when a scene is cut up."
Director of photography Chris Norr and Derrickson devised a strategy to trick
the viewer's eye
into seeing more than is actually on screen. "We shot with short lenses, wide
lenses and made so much of
the space black," Derrickson explains. "When you have wide images and lots of
darkness in the frame, it
takes on an infinite quality. The result is an aesthetic that doesn't feel small
or cramped. You don't feel
like you're in small rooms because you're looking at actors and you don't feel
the edges of the room."
For the Super 8 footage of the murders, the director and the cinematographer
took some time to
experiment and developed a different aesthetic for each one. "I began to get
very excited about the
cinematic possibilities of Super 8," says Derrickson. "I tried to tailor each of
them to be cinematically
unique and stand in real visual contrast to the contained HD look of the rest of
the film. We used different
stocks for each of the films. We did a lot of testing with different stocks at a
lot of different exposure
levels. We would try five or six stocks in each location and use different
exposure levels for each stock
going from very bright to very dark so that we could see the same image tested
20 to 25 different ways."
He describes the short films as feeling "reckless." "But at the same time,
they're very deliberately
made," he adds. "These are films people made about the murders they're
committing. There's something
so inherently weird and scary about that."
Sinister uses very few visual effects to create its dark and atmospheric
tension. "At Blumhouse,
we generally eschew visual effects," says the producer. "It's one of the things
that I think differentiates
our movies from other, lower-budget genre movies. I think it makes the movies
more effective because
what you're seeing is real.
The effects are quite limited compared to the last several films Derrickson
worked on, which is
fine with him. "I think good horror is difficult to achieve when it's
effects-driven, because what makes
something scary is what you're able to create in the mind of the viewer," he
explains. "If you can get the
viewers to see things through their own imagination, that has a much greater
impact than spending
money on CGI. This particular story just didn't call for it."
Blumhouse's bare-bones system worked well for this story, according to the
director. To work
this way, he says, a director has to have the right kind of narrative, limited
locations and a meticulous
method of working. "I knew exactly the shots I needed and what I didn't. We
didn't have any reshoots.
We got everything in the 23 days that we shot. It worked really well for me."
In the end, says Derrickson, it's what's on the screen that matters. "Anybody
who pays to go see
a horror film, they're paying to be scared. That's number one with no close
second. That said, I think we
made an aesthetically interesting movie with some depth and meaning to the moral
tale of Ellison
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