THE film is called Sinister (Cert 15) and the opening credits offer grainy footage of four hooded figures being hanged from the branch of a tree, so a sense of foreboding is established from the outset.
True life crime writer Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) is moving his wife and two kids into a new house which unbeknown to them was the scene of the gruesome multiple murder which he aims to investigate for his latest book.
That’s only the first of his actions which you know any sane person would avoid in real life but is the stuff of horror movies. The next is to seize upon a box of old Super 8 “home movies” lying enticingly in the attic and to spend the dark evenings alone in his study watching footage of further brutal and horrifying murders that have taken place over the years.
Further strong hints crank up the tension – his English wife (Juliet Rylance) urging him to keep his study door locked, the night terrors of the son and the daughter’s penchant for drawing matchstick figures on her bedroom wall.
Nothing much about the film by Scott Derrickson, director of so-so The Exorcism of Emily Rose, is original but the allusions to the likes of The Ring and Insidious prove red herrings.
Likewise when Hawke becomes obsessive and neglectful of his family, we wonder if this is going in the direction of The Shining.
For much of the movie it’s rooted in the reality of a serial killer mystery but when Ellison consults a specialist in the occult, a supernatural element takes over.
At least it keeps you on the edge of your seat and guessing through to the unexpected if rather naff ending.