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Stars: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Vincent D'Onofrio, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D'Addario

Director: Scott Derrickson

Although it's as intense and scary as the director can make it, this chiller's big problem is that you can see the ending coming almost from the start, which rather cuts a knife into the suspense. In fact, you could pick up a camera and shoot the last five minutes after seeing the first five.

True-crime writer Ellison (Hawke) moves into the house where a family of four was found hanging from a tree in their garden, both the crime and the disappearance of the youngest daughter remaining unexplained and unsolved.

On arrival at the house - with the rest of the family knowing nothing of its history - Ellison discovers a box with an old projector and cans of films, the first of which depicts the hanged family. To his horror, the writer finds that the other spools show further family massacres, dating back to the sixties, and with the same sinister figure seen briefly in all. In each case, the youngest child was never found.

Worse, ominous noises fill the house at night, a scorpion and snake appear in the loft, Ellison's soin (D'Addario) has nightmares and is found in bizarre places at dead of night, and his small daughter (Foley) starts painting pictures of hanged people on the wall.

You could run for the hills at this point, but Ellison sticks around, thinking he can write a sensational book, and enlists the help of a friendly deputy (Ransone), who discovers the connection between the massacres that you may have guessed from the start.

There are lots of sudden shocks and creeping around in the dark, although the explanation of the killings takes some believing, even by horror-film standards. Hawke gives one of his best performances as the hag-ridden writer, but English actress Rylance is less than convincing as his wife. One-time Law & Order alumnus Thompson pops up as the local police chief, whose advice to Ellison to turn his car around and go back where he came from the writer should have heeded, and another Law and Order refugee (D'Onofrio) has a couple of scenes as a professor of the occult.

David Quinlan

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Momentum. Technicolor.
108 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 06 Oct 2012