Let sleeping dogs lie, or prepare to be bitten.
That’s the underlying message of Sinister, a supernatural horror about a true crime writer, whose obsession with unearthing the past places his loved ones in jeopardy.
The plot of Scott Derrickson’s unsettling film necessitates an acrimonious divorce from common sense.
Few people would willingly move into a house where four members of a family were found hanged by the neck from a gnarled tree in the back garden.
Fewer still would remain in the property when someone or something starts opening locked doors and crashing about in the attic in the dead of night.
“If you sleep in this house, it’s going to do terrible things to your head,” a supporting character warns the writer, to no avail.
Ten years after Kentucky Blood became a best-seller and brought him notoriety, novelist Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves to a leafy community with his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) and children Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) and Ashley (Clare Foley).
Ellison neglects to mention to his brood that the previous owners of the house came to an unfortunate end, and the sole survivor - a little girl - disappeared without trace.
“I had to move here. The new story I’m writing is here,” Ellison assures his disgruntled daughter.
Desperately in need of another page-turner to revive his career, Ellison is intrigued to discover a box of Super 8 home movies in the attic.
As he watches the shocking footage in the privacy of his office, the writer connects brutal murders across the country and senses a potential movie deal.
“This could be my In Cold Blood!” Ellison excitedly tells his exasperated wife.
Local law enforcement led by Sheriff Thompson (Fred Dalton Thompson) is wary of Ellison on their patch.
However, Thompson’s ambitious Deputy (James Ransone) is keen to be immortalised in print and he enthusiastically agrees to help piece together evidence.
Strange symbols concealed within the home movie footage lead Ellison to Professor Jonas (Vincent D’Onofrio), an expert on the occult.
As Ellison continues to immerse himself in the case, he loosens his grasp on sanity and malevolent forces gather.
Sinister is a predictable ghost story that has a few decent scares as Ellison wanders around his house at night, twitching nervously at every creaking floorboard or groaning pipe.
Hawke perfects a wide-eyed stare and furiously strokes his beard to convey inner turmoil, while Rylance and D’Onofrio are wasted in non-descript roles.
Youngsters D’Addario and Foley are solid in their challenging scenes.
So long as the script remains vague about what horrors lurk in the darkness, we share the characters’ mounting fear.
Once Derrickson and co-writer Scott Cargill make clear their intentions, and unleash the hocus pocus and digital trickery, we’re more likely to yawn that scream.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10
Released: October 5 (UK & Ireland), 109 mins