You wouldn’t credit that the director of Insidious, James Wan, kicked off the Saw franchise but his latest film goes back to traditional haunted house horror and for a film derivative of so many other films that have gone before, it is strangely satisfying home visit.
Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) move into a new home with their children, Dalton, Foster and baby daughter Cali. Josh, a teacher, is busy at work whilst Renai is left to unpack furniture and establish a home life and re-establish herself as a composer/singer-songwriter. The house exhibits creaks and groans and the odd scary face in panes of glass but when Dalton falls off a ladder in the creepy attic, bad stuff begins to happen. Despite initially seeming fine, Dalton falls into a coma-like state that lasts for three-months. After being brought home the haunting increases with a variety of ghostly characters invading rooms, setting off alarms and using technology against the couple. The experiences begin to drive a bewildered and terrified Josh and Renai apart as she believes the house is haunted whilst he remains sceptical and buries himself in work but he gives in to her request to move house and so they move into a new single storey house but the haunting continues and Renai is at breaking point when her mother in law Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) suggests bringing in a psychic named Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Elise reveals that Dalton is the source of the haunting.
The first part of the film setting up the haunted house and its various living/dead inhabitants is reminiscent of Paranormal Activity and Poltergeist. The set of the first house is creepy and with the combination of a prowling/hand-held camera and an overwrought soundtrack, the film provides some shocks. It effectively builds up tension and serves to throw the audience off as to the source of the haunting. Various aural and visual tricks are employed to build threat including distorted voices and CGI ghosts. Rose Byrne at home or not, this is one house I wouldn’t return to.
Whole sequences stand out: the whole routine with the baby monitor is well done as well as the house alarm set-piece. They play on fears we all have, home intrusion, eternal damnation, kids in peril, people being around while we are at our most vulnerable sleeping.
From the start of the film I was observantly scanning for ghosts and it was enjoyable spotting them as well as various film references. Aside from Poltergeist and Paranormal Activity, the ghosts exhibit behaviour like Toshio and his mother from Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On (the dancing boy is nicely introduced during a tense search and is genuinely creepy).
Indeed, part of what is effective is the fact that it takes events seriously and things remain opaque. With the arrival of a team of paranormal experts named Specs, Tucker and Elise, proceedings remain creepy and the comic relief in this section is welcome and well-played during their low/high-tech investigation…
…all the way until the reveal of the demon.
When the demon is revealed I couldn’t help but think of Darth Maul from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace which deflated the atmosphere although the baroque design of the demon (eyes like two dark holes, blood red face, black body, goat hoofs, huge claws) was enjoyably over the top.
As for taking things seriously both Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne portray their characters well regardless of the fact that they are clichéd roles – he the sceptical husband, she the overwrought wife who could be neurotic but is actually being haunted.
The various twists can be seen a mile away but by the time they appeared I was entertained enough. The film is in no way original or scary but it is effectively made and genuinely chilling.