The Barretts - mom, dad and two kids - appear to be the quintessential American family. They live in a clapboard house in an affluent suburb where the boys can play out while mum and dad invite the neighbours over. However, beneath the surface, all is not well. Dad (Josh Hamilton) is out of work and the bills are piling up while his relationship with his wife Lacy (Keri Russell) is at breaking point. There's also the problem of an apparent poltergeist slipping into the house at night. Only it's much, much worse. Writer-director Scott Stewart constructs a terrifyingly convincing scenario in a genuinely disturbing alien abduction thriller.
The problem with most alien abduction thrillers - from Signs to Skyline - is that they unsurprisingly suffer a major credibility problem.
So it's a pleasure to see a psychological thriller that painstakingly builds a believable suburban family dynamic...and then rips it apart without laying bare gaping potholes and niggling inconsistencies.
You couldn't get a more normal American family than the Barretts - a good-looking product of sound WASP breeding living the dream in a leafy suburb where every clapboard house flies the Stars'n'stripes.
However, behind the stained glass front door, there's trauma. Dad Daniel (Hamilton), a regular jock but a bit of a boor, has lost his job and is hiding the final reminders from his wife Lacy (Russell), who would rather be at home with their young boys than reluctantly working as an estate agent.
On top of - and into - an already stressed household comes something literally alien. At first it manifests itself by power surges in lamp-posts but then grows increasingly intrusive. Strange geometric stacks are inexplicably built from tins and packets in the kitchen and then there's hundreds of starlings crashing into the house.
Things really take a turn for the worse when the psychological scars affecting the two young boys become physical....and Daniel and Lacy fall under suspicion of abuse while helpless to get a grip on what is really going on.
After the lacklustre Priest and Legion, writer-director Scott Stewart appears far more comfortable working within the constraints of a domestic dynamic, focussing on realism while carefully balancing visceral scares with lighter moments.
Russell and Hamilton convincingly convey common suburban anxieties jacked up to another terrifying level by a spectral home intruder - the Greys - topped off with the terrible realisation that no-one believes you...and thinks you're mad.
This joins the above-average company of Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister as a psychological thriller aiming to avoid the straitjacket of formula.