When documentary filmmaker Cooper Tilson and his wife Leah decide life in New York City has become unbearable, they and their children Kristen and Jesse move into a decaying mansion filled with the possessions of the previous family. They befriend local tavern owners Ray and Ellen Pinski and their daughter Stephanie. As Cooper begins to sort through the many documents and family photographs scattered throughout the house, he decides to commit its history to film.
Converting the old building into their dream house becomes a nightmare for the Tilsons when previous owner Dale Massie, an uncouth redneck recently released from prison, shows up and pressures Cooper into hiring him to help with the renovations. While he initially proves to be a good worker, the underlying sense of menace he projects is unsettling. A series of terrifying incidents, including Cooper being pursued by an unknown car, the sudden appearance of the poisonous snakes in the house and the killing of the horse given to them by the Pinskis lead the Tilsons to research the estate's dark past. Hoping to glean some details about its history, Cooper visits Dale's aging and slightly demented father in the nursing home where he is living. Disjointed comments made by the elderly man lead Cooper to believe Dale murdered his wife and children, and he begins to search his 1,200-acre (4.9 km2) property for their remains. Sheriff Annie Ferguson, sister of Dale's battered, slatternly girlfriend Ruby, is skeptical about Dale's guilt, but slowly comes to realize Cooper may be right.
Cooper's suspicions are confirmed when he and Leah discover three skeletons in Devil's Throat, a deep well, hidden in the woods. Using a walkie talkie, he contacts Sheriff Ferguson, unaware she has been attacked and disabled by Dale, who punctures the tires on Cooper's truck and sets Leah's car on fire to prevent them from escaping. Trapping them in the house in the middle of a storm that has knock