A true-crime writer searching for his next best-seller moves his family into a house with a terrifying history. There he discovers a box of home movies that show him just how terrifying.
Desperate to hold things together, Ethan Hawke moves his family not only to the town where a brutal mass murder wiped out a family (apart from one missing child), but into the exact house where they lived and died. There, he uncovers a stash of home movies that show not only the murder, but a series of similar murders from across the country. As he begins to unravel the threads of the dark tapestry the events weave, that darkness begins to creep into his own life. His son’s night terrors return, his daughter becomes fixated on the horrific event and strange events unfold and deepen each night until he begins to question his sanity and just how much deeper he wants to – or can let himself – dig.
First, let’s get the things this movie gets wrong out of the way. The movie is dark. Not thematically (although it certainly is that), but nighttime in the house gets downright hard to see. That seems to be a trend in movie making and it’s getting out of hand. The bigger issue, though, is the pace. This movie takes FOREVER to get going. Some of the exposition could be cut and some could be placed later in the film to break it up. As it stands, there’s a long, slow (and at times boring) drag through the first half and then a mad dash to the conclusion.
The conclusion. What a conclusion it is. This is one of those movies that is vastly redeemed by its ending. Not that it’s a bad movie that has a good ending that makes it watchable (“Blair Witch Project”), but it’s an ending that stays with you and keeps you up at night. Every creepy moment that preceded it presses in on you all over again and you feel the same dreadful fate befalling you that you see before you on the screen.
The second and painfully short third acts stand out with lots of creepy moments that could have been awesome if they were sprinkled into the first act. As it is, though, this is a movie that takes a while to find its stride but then takes you on a pretty harrowing ride through a creepy story that becomes more and more macabre as more of it comes to light. The dreadful atmosphere and legitimate scariness of it really does make the wait worthwhile.