It’s hard to find a ghost story that is actually scary, but this one is truly terrifying. We have been lucky enough to recently be blessed with a new era of ghost stories like Insidious and The Conjuring. Before that, the most recent scary one I can remember is Martyrs, which isn’t even an American film. If you ask someone what their favorite haunted horror films are, you are most likely to get answers like The Poltergeist, The Sixth Sense, House on Haunted Hill, The Amityville Horror, and the like. Most of these are older films and indeed frightening classics, but it has been awhile since anything has come out that can match these in chill factor. I typically prefer horror films with a little more realism with serial killers and whatnot. But I am starting to be a believer that supernatural stories can work and can instill the same kind of fear.
As far as ghost stories go, haunted house horror would definitely be at the top of my list. There is something about the history and character of old homes that crawls under the skin. I always think about what has happened in the past in longstanding homes. This house is no different except for the fact that the man who moves here does so intentionally because of a murder that has happened. Ethan Hawke plays the father, Ellison. He is an author who moves to this small town to write his new book. Ellison is motivated by the fact that he wrote a best seller ten years ago and nothing good since. He is hoping this one will break the spell and has high hopes with such a tragic story. Unbeknownst to his family, the home they move into is the subject of his next true crime novel.
I got goose-bumps as the opening scene unfolds of an old footage reel of four people being hung by a tree. It is left on the screen for a long time, making sure it is burned into the retina for good. While the family is settling in, Ellison finds a few film reels in the attic and watches the murder unfold- the same one we are subjected to at the opening of the film. As if it wasn’t bad enough the first time, we are forced to watch it over and over again. Who made this film? And why was it in the attic? Each reel shows a different murder of a family, each one more grisly than the last. Ellison finds connections with each of these mass murders that have something to do with a child-eating demon that consumes children’s souls. We unravel the mystery alongside Ellison, stumbling upon clue after clue in perfect calculated suspense that literally makes you jump in fright. I love the adrenaline rush.
Ethan Hawke is great in this. His costuming of Ivy League college tees, thick wool cardigans, disheveled hair, and reading glasses definitely makes him look like a writer. The grainy found-footage scenes are so creepy and the ending is terrifying and shocking. Every nuance is spot on and wonderfully spine-tingling. Ellison will get his wish. He sure will be famous after all is said and done. This is the kind of movie that makes you think twice before walking through a dark house in the middle of the night or ignoring those sounds that go bump in the night.
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