Featuring the very latest in ghost-busting chic ...
I can understand perfectly why the marketing for this film concentrates on the fact that it is written and directed by the guys who wrote and/or directed Saw I, II and III (2004, 5 and 6).  They originated what is now the most lucrative horror franchise ever, that’s the sort of thing that should be top of their CV.

Problem with that is, to their credit, they are doing something totally different here.  They’ve decided to put their own spin on the traditional Haunted House story and the end result is much more like their odd 2007 collaboration Dead Silence than Saw.

So, the traditional Haunted House signifiers are quickly put in place:  Young (ish) married couple move into old creaky house?  Check.  Big spooky loft full of previous tenants’ clutter?  Check.  Lots of nooks and crannies and interior doors?  Check.  Wifey has lots of experiences; hubby doesn’t believe any of it?  Check.  Family attacked through their children?  Check.  Hints of a troubled past that are obviously going to explain the present predicament?  Check and check!

But, unlike either of the Paranormal Activity films (2007, 2010), which have brought these tropes back to the forefront of cinema-goer’s minds,  this movie doesn’t hang around … I nearly dropped off to sleep during both PA films, waiting for the end of the hour of nothing-much that precedes the jumpy bits.  No such problems here!

It is to the credit of both writer, Whannell, and director, Wan, that they are quite restrained in their use of cattle-prods.  There are several moments when you are set up for a traditional cheap-shot jumpy bit, but it’s just a red herring; which, of course, puts you at your ease, so the real cattle-prod can get you!

It’s a long time since I fell for a cheap-shot in a horror, but there’s one in here which got me!  Good on 'em!

As is so often the case, the people who chop together the trailer have successfully spoiled the film by giving you the piece of information which, in script-writing classes, is called ‘The Reversal’.  This is when the film pulls the metaphorical rug from under your hypothetical feet.  Sadly, if you have seen the trailer, you won’t share a lot of the anxiety the family feels, because you’ll already know the problem … So, avoid the trailer if you can.
Probably best not to look at this poster either ... Oh, too late.
One of the other ways Whannell and Co have experimented with the Haunted House form is by having a variety of spectres visiting, residual ones that seem to be doing their own thing and intelligent ones that are consciously making everyone’s day more interesting than it should be.  The film certainly turns some unusual corners, most particularly when the family, in desperation, call the paranormal investigators and get a sort-of Laurel and Hardy of Ghost-Busters: Specs and Tucker, who are two bumbling nerds, seemingly brothers, who bicker nerdily as they bust ghost.

They help leaven the tension with a humour that very few films of this nature manage.  Patrick Wilson manages to avoid coming across as a total prick as the husband and father who doesn’t believe in all that voodoo nonsense, whilst Rose Byrne makes the most of the bulk of the screen-time she gets as the long-suffering hausfrau.  Barbara Hershey gives excellent support as the mother who, inevitably, knows more than she’s letting on.  Hershey, notoriously, had her own encounter with the supernatural in The Entity (1982) so she’s an old hand at this.

Speaking of 1982, this film does evolve into an updated remake of Poltergeist, especially as it charges headlong into its third act.  Just without the swimming pool and ancient Amerindian curse.

So, all-in-all we have a film which feels very like The Amityville Horror (1979) and The Exorcist (1973), whilst looking and sounding like Poltergeist, which is certainly a refreshing and ambitious mix for what it now a tried, trusted and, let’s face it, rather dull genre.

Creepy rather than terrifying (or, indeed, insidious) but with some genuinely imaginative jumpy-bits and a few chilling images that will stay with you,  it’s just a shame that the demon behind all the spooky goings-on looks like the bastard son of Freddie Krueger and Darth Maul. 
He's behiiiiiiind you!!
Dir: James Wan
Stars: Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell
Dur:  100 mins
Cert: 15

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