Had I been watching it alone, on a dark and stormy night, my neck likely would be sore by the end of it, from making repeated glances behind the couch — you know, just to be safe. It’s 2012’s Insidious: well-built, respectful of viewers’ intelligence and yet genuinely freaky.

Ethan Hawke (Daybreakers) plays Ellison Oswalt, a writer of true-crime books (the subject of one of two of the Blu-ray featurettes) who’s uprooted his wife and kids to another town for research purposes. Unbeknownst to all but him, their new home is the site of a still-unsolved, bizarre mass murder, in which four family members were hanged on the backyard tree.

Upon moving in, Ellison finds a box in the attic containing several Super 8 film canisters and a projector. The reels’ flickering images depict the brutal event that occurred mere steps away, and others. Having peaked a decade prior, the author — like a shark to blood in the water — smells a big best seller in the making.

As demonstrated by Sinister’s chilling opening, these “home movies” are absolutely unsettling. The stock’s scratches and grain suggest a snuff film, and the discordant, looping scores — unique for each reel — employed by director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still) bear a real power to disturb. The less you know about them, the better; I’d even advise against watching the trailer.

Hawke’s commitment secures your buy-in. As usual, he’s solid and reliable. To his credit, he invests equal effort into his performance as he did in his Oscar-nominated role in Training Day.

Consciously or not, Derrickson makes a shrewd statement on its own film genre. Knowing that each successive Super 8 reel will bring further pain and suffering, Ellison still threads ’em up. He just has to; he can’t not know what’s there — in other words, just like movie fans who willingly pay good money to be frightened.

That Derrickson spells out the ending too much is to be expected for a mainstream movie, but damned if its final boo won’t make those viewers scream all the same. —Rod Lott

Hey! Read This:
The Day the Earth Stood Still DVD review     
Daybreakers DVD review   
Insidious Blu-ray review    

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Rod Lott

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