Jessica Chastain's lovely performance regularly elevates this very effective new paranormal thriller from producer Guillermo del Toro and first-time director Andrés Muschietti. Fans of del Toro's previous horror movies (The Devil's Backbone
, Pan's Labyrinth
) will recognize his sensibilities all over this thing. TA distraught father, who has apparently just killed his wife, speeds off in a car with his two little girls. The car crashes and dad leads the kids to a creepy old cabin in the woods. Some very scary things happen, then we flash forward five years. The girls, now age 9 and 6, are finally discovered—still in the cabin and living like feral cats. Actually, the way they skitter around on all fours is more insect-like and this is the first of the many, many disquieting images director Muschietti has in store. There are five or six code-red scares in this movie, shocks so jolting that at one point I literally did the thing where the popcorn goes flying. Muschietti makes some interesting moves here by switching up the standard horror movie rhythms. He builds to the scary shot we're expecting and delivers it with a flourish.Then it gets scarier. And scarier. And scarier still. Chastain provides the emotional base the film needs to power its creepshow set pieces.