Directed By: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawk, Fred Dalton Thomas, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone
Running Time: 100 mins
It’s really difficult to bring something to a genre that is stagnating, the last time director Scott Derrickson did this was back in 2005 when he directed the Exorcism of Emily Rose and, while it wasn’t a good film, it at least tried to be effective. The director then went on to try his hand at sci-fi with the Day the Earth Stood Still and, again it was more interesting than good, but it tried its best and that seems to be a rule of thumb when it comes to how Derrickson directs. So can he buck this trend or are we getting another film that tries but ultimately fails at the last hurdle?
The film opens up with troubled writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawk) moving his family to a small town to write his next book. Ellisonwas once a renowned writer of crime novels revolving around missing kids and in every town where writes the police don’t take kindly to him being there, so he has to move with each new book. During the moving in process, Ellison is stopped by the local sheriff (Fred Dalton Thomas) and asked to go back to where he came from as he knows what kind of writer Ellison is. Naturally, Ellison refuses and tries to settle his family in.
The writer then begins to get to work on his new book that revolves around a 10-year-old girl who has gone missing after her parents and brother were found hung. However, unbeknownst to Ellison’s wife (Rylance), the house they live in is where the deaths occured originally. Ellison soon discovers a box in the house’s attic that contains a film projector and some old 35mm film, Ellison is intrigued and soon horrified when he sees what the film really is… and he has unwittingly unleashed an ancient evil.
First of, the look of the film is handled really well with some unusual camera angles that work well in a horror movie, giving the viewer a feeling of ‘looking in’ on events and creating atmosphere and tension, this can also be said for the score as it goes from the typical spooky music to screeches that slice your brain like a knife through demonic butter; when it comes to the sound of the film it is not of this world, with screaming children heard over the metal grinding noises.
The sound and look of the film aren’t the only high points; the performances are also well handled, with Hawk and Rylance playing a couple that seem to be near the end of their relationship, with Hawk acting like a man on the edge at times, this is a clever device, particularly in horror movies, as the relationship becomes the focal point of the movie, making the events even more frightening.
The first forty minutes of the movie are handled really well, with tension building and a few well-placed jumps rounding off a great set-up, however after that it falls down considerably as the pace slackens and two big plotholes raise their heads – yes, you could pass a ship through these babies. At this stage in the proceedings the scare-factor seems to be forgotten about and as for the force of evil – the demon – it may as well not exist because it’s so under-used.
Overall the film isn’t a total mess, and as we said already, director Scott Derrickson has a knack of making films that are ‘not bad’ and unfortunately he hasn’t bucked that trend here. There are glimpses of what could be a well above average scare-fest, and there are times where you feel that if he only stuck to his convictions the movie could take off, but sadly by the time the last third kicks off the director is going in the wrong direction altogether and when Derrickson tries to amp up everything sadly the movie just teeters out and fizzles instead of building to a bang…