Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a true-crime novelist whose early success has eclipsed his later work, very much to his and his family’s frustration. When they move into a new home, Ellison deliberately fails to mention the horrific murder that happened there recently, which is also to be the subject of his new book. Immersing himself into his research he unearths more than he bargains for, namely a box of Super 8 films showing the horrific murders not only at their new homestead but others from years before at different locations!
Any horror thriller is going to have its camp and crass moments. It doesn’t start well when his wife asks Ellison “This isn’t another crime scene house we’re moving into like the other ones, is it?” Indeed the domestic tensions do let this film down slightly. However, the fact that he is a true-crimes writer gives Hawke’s character resilience and us hope; this is the fuel that feeds our proverbial fire. He is pre-toughened to some of the things we as an audience find quite shocking. So when his fears start to grow it is very credible and inevitably leaves the audience feeling unnerved. There is nothing more irritating in a horror film than an hysterical protagonist.
The other thing that grinds me about a lot of horror films these days (as I’ve mentioned in numerous previous reviews) is shaky camera footage. But other than the Super 8 footage (which is kinda qualified given the storyline) everything else is beautifully shot. A refreshing change to your average horrors and very atmospheric too. It also incorporates a device I love in films, where there are things that are staring you in the face, the clues are there and yet you only clock them when they want you to, with the deftness and nimbleness of a magician messing with your head. After all, there is skill to making a good horror, not just sudden loud noises and inyaface camera shots (though there are a few of those here nevertheless)
Ethan Hawke is excellent and very watchable. His wife, Brit Juliet Rylance, is sadly less so. The kids are good, especially Clare Foley as daughter, Ashley. I would also like to commend production designer David Brisbin and composer Christopher Young for his chilling original music. And finally, director (& co-writer) Scott Derrickson for a marvellously paced and beautifully told story.
This film nearly got 5 stars, but sadly the ending is a little milked! So it gets 4. But a great film all the same and a good choice for Halloween!