Happy couple Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson) have moved into a new house. Their domestic bliss is shattered when, after taking a tumble in the attic, their son Dalton falls into a coma. Josh retreats into his work (ostensibly to pay the debts incurred by Dalton's ongoing treatment). And Renai finds herself increasingly agitated by a number of unsettling disturbances that threaten to shatter the Lambert household for good.
Though I was never quite on board with either Saw or its various sequels, your proprietor has followed the work (and become something of a fan) of filmmaker James Wan. The revenge drama Death Sentence confirmed that Wan's interests extended beyond gore and violence, and though scant few gave Wan credit for it, his grip on the conflicted morality of his protagonist (as well as the ultimately soul-destroying void left in the wake of the film's violence), coupled with some masterfully-executed set pieces, showed that he was a genre filmmaker with increasing sensitivity and broadening focus.
Reuniting with Saw-scribe Leigh Whannell, Wan crafts a haunted house film that is mindful of its traditions (with nods to THE HAUNTING, POLTERGEIST, and the more recent PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) while laden with the patented Stygian imagery that has figured in all of Wan's films. But there's a strong sense of ordinariness to the Lambert's domesticity, which is slowly and knowingly upended as the film unfolds - Wan is just as confident showing the internal sources of conflict between the Lamberts as the malevolent external forces that shadow them. And though some have blanched that the movie shifts its focus from Renai to Jeff in its last half, the shift is more than earned by a lovely scene in which Jeff, confronted by the truth of his son's drawings, finally accepts his responsibility as a parent. It's a great turn by Patrick Wilson, and maybe the finest acting moment in Wan's oeuvre so far.
The main criticism leveled against this film is that its second half over-explains the story and loses steam after the masterfully sustained suspense of the first half. I can only say bullshit: the arrival of a downright goofy pair of ghost hunters followed by their extremely grounded boss (an excellent supporting turn by Lin Shaye) adds some nice variation and raises the stakes considerably, and whatever losses are incurred by fully exposing the previously little-seen spooks are more than balanced by the drama of the Lamberts fighting to save their son. The emotional intensity of the climax, a startling coda, and finally a gorgeously malignant post-credits shot seals the deal, and closes the circuit on the thing.
Wan's next project appears to be FALL NIGHT (or perhaps NIGHTFALL), about a Texas criminal sent to a prison run by vampires. And yet I'd be keen to see the musical that Wan says he's ready to make. And as I said before, I'd love to see him remake Gaslight.