Interview: Sinister Writer C Robert Cargill

We caught up with the critic turned scriptwriter over email following the release of the chilling Sinister.

Posted 8th October 2012, 11:59am in Features and Interviews / By Sam Faulkner
Interview: Sinister Writer C Robert Cargill

With Sinister out now, and scaring the pants off audiences across the UK, (here's our review) we caught up with film critic turned scriptwriter C Robert Cargill to get his thoughts on the film.

So where did the idea for Sinister come from?

A nightmare I had, if you’ll believe that. I had a terrible dream after seeing The Ring. I was climbing into my attic when I saw a box with Super 8 films and a projector in it. I spooled up the first film and it was the opening image of Sinister. That nightmare stuck with me for a while and eventually I realized it might make a for a pretty good horror movie.

Sinister is refreshing in that it seems to set out first and foremost to be scary. Was this a concious reaction to a genre that seems to put fear pretty low on the agenda these days?

I don’t think anyone sets out to make a horror film and puts scares on the back burner. I think the audience is growing shrewder, more knowledgeable and harder to scare. This was a reaction to *that*. We were trying to take the audience to places they hadn’t quite visited before, using familiar ideas to create new situations. We weren’t thinking about what other films were or weren’t doing as of late, we were thinking about what the audience wanted to see and what would mess with them.

What makes a horror film truly frightening, in your opinion? What else is out there that you admire?

Things that tap into our primal fears while showing us characters we care about. You give me a character I’m invested in, and I’ll be afraid of something as mundane as a car accident. Put that same person in a dark house and I’ll be terrified. What do I admire? An awful lot. I LOVE CINEMA. Love it. Can’t get enough. Even naming what I admire would mean leaving out hundreds in the same genre that I couldn’t mention.

Ethan Hawke is great in the lead, could you tell us a little about how he came to be involved, and your thoughts on his performance in the film?

I think he’s brilliant. I’ve always been a huge fan, so working with him was a dream. How we ended up with Ethan was that Scott and I knew we had written a relatively unlikable protagonist and needed an actor who could win the audience over with pure charisma. Not a lot of actors can do that. Ethan was at the top of a short list and as it so happened, he is best friends with producer Jason Blum – who is also the godfather to Ethan’s kids – so getting him to read it was easy. Convincing him to do a horror movie was all Scott. He really work Ethan hard to get him to try out a genre he wasn’t comfortable with. But it paid off big.

Is it true that the mega-creepy Super 8 sections were really shot in the format? Could you tell us a little about those moments?

Yeah. There was no other way to do it. Digital alteration doesn’t look the same. It looks forced, inauthentic. That wouldn’t have been scary at all. Nothing looks quite like Super 8, the way it catches the light, the imperfections of the filmstock, the way it stutters and jumps. We had to shoot it that way.

It's an interesting transition to go from being a critic to a scriptwriter- did your previous work influence your writing at all?

Very much so. I always knew I wanted to write fiction – whether as novels or films – and treated film criticism as an expanded, masters class in storytelling. Each movie was a new assignment and millions of readers were grading me on each outing. When I was afforded the chances, I picked the brains of the masters it put me in contact with: Tarantino, Rodriguez, Avery, del Toro, Black, Wright…there were so many talented writers and directors who gave me advice along the way in great conversations over beers or after films. All of that was filed away as a student would lectures or lessons. Sinister is the culmination of those lessons and my chance to test and prove some of the theories I developed during that time.

What's next for you?

My book Dreams and Shadows comes out in February, and hopefully Scott and I will begin preproduction on one of our next projects shortly.