Sinister, we are told, comes from the creators of Paranormal Activity, Insidious and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. So you know what's coming, folks. Ethan Hawke plays tetchy, dissatisfied crime novelist Ellison who, as his wife Tracey (Juliet Rylance) tells him, should relax. Maybe, she suggests, he had his 15 minutes of fame 10 years previously, with that hit crime novel Kentucky Blood.
Sniffing a real-life crime around which to base a book which he hopes will resurrect his career, Ellison moves himself, his wife and two kids into a house in rural Kentucky. Rylance plays Tracey as a tormented yummy mummy on the verge of a nervous breakdown throughout, which somehow doesn't wash. It is, moreover, absolutely impossible to believe in the couple's relationship. There is little to suggest that the dull and humourless Tracey could be bothered with the vain wretch that is Ellison. And vice versa.
But back to the case in hand. Fresh in our minds is the opening scene - home movie footage of a hooded and noosed family of four about to be hanged from a tree. The grainy images show the swinging family despatched in one motion that kills them all. What's this all about, you quite rightly ask yourself?
Soon you find out. Rooting around the attic, Ellison finds a box of Super 8 films, which he plays on his projector. Yep, he sees the above footage and works out that the murder victims are the very family who lived at this house before Ellison and brood moved in.
Driven to somewhat unconvincing whiskey-glugging to ease the trauma of what he now knows, he endures further footage of gruesome family murders, going back to the 1960s. What this series of murders has in common is the fact that the youngest child in each of the families was abducted and is still officially missing.
The domestic tension at the heart of the story centres on the fact that Ellison is letting his potential crime tale wag the dog of his life. He swears to his wife that no crime took place in the house - but that’s a mere technicality; it took place in the garden. (When he declares this, it raised a ripple of laughter in the company I was with, which I'm not sure was the intended response.)
Then the abducted children from the serial crimes begin to show up, and a very cross-looking black dog, whose growls are loudly dubbed. Never figured out about the dog, by the way. Oh, and there's a strange, hooded and masked creature in the bushes who resembles the strange hooded and masked creature Ellison discerns in the Super 8 film.
The full-throttle soundtrack strains as hard as it can to compensate for the lack of an actual credible plot. And when that soundtrack relies on things falling at unusual decibel levels, or Ellison suddenly crashing through the attic floor, you are, of course, going to leap 10 feet in your seat.
Juliet Rylance, we can safely assume, excelled in the stage production of The Three Sisters, with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jessica Hecht. I am sure too that she deserves better movies than this. Ditto for Master Hawke.
However, given the open-ended way in which Sinister concludes, there will be further exploits, I fear.