As the movie opens over the sound of a piano playing we begin to see old black and white photographs, as the photos continue to change you see that the photos are being taken at a funeral home and show family members sitting with the bodies of dead loved ones.
From the photos the scene changes to see Sarah Campbell preparing to be interviewed for a television show. The interviewer asks her why she thinks “this” happened to her and she says that he’s really asking why bad things happen to good people. That she and her family didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t deserve what happened to them.
We then jump to 1987 and Sarah is driving her son Matt home from the hospital where he has been undergoing cancer treatments. Sarah is praying out loud for his recovery when Matt wakes up and jokes with her that talking to herself is the first sign of madness. Sarah tells him that she is talking to God and he tells her that threatening the creator may not be the best idea. They laugh, and then Matt tells her to pull over, as he is about to be sick. Sarah pulls over and sits in the car as Matt vomits by the side of the road.
The next morning Sarah is cooking breakfast amidst the chaos of her family. Her husband Peter comes in and remarks that he didn’t hear her come in the night before and asks her what time she got in. Sarah tells him that they got home at 4 am and he asks why the trip took them so long and she snaps that she didn’t think he would want to know how many times they had to stop for Matt to be sick. She remarks that it would be a lot easier if they had a place to stay nearer the hospital and he asks how they could possibly afford that but tells her to see if she can find something.
Sarah and Matt return to the hospital where Matt has been accepted into a trial of a new treatment. As we see him undergoing the treatment we see Sarah searching the classifieds for a rental house and not having much luck. She is driving down a street when she sees a man hammering a “For Rent” sign into the front yard of a large house. She pulls over and tells him she doesn’t want to waste his time, but wants to know how much he is asking per month. The man tells her that he will give her the first month for free if she takes the place so he doesn’t have to keep trying to pound the sign into the ground.
As they walk through the lower level you can hear Sarah remarking on how the place is perfect and spacious and affordable, that she is wondering what the catch is. The owner tells her that the place has a “bit of a history” and we see a dark shape moving away from the landing above them.
Later Sarah is on the phone with Peter telling him about her search for a house. She tells him that she found a place that seemed perfect but she didn’t think it would work out. That night she and Matt are driving home and Matt is in extreme pain, Sarah says that the doctor warned her about this but tries to cheer him up by reminding him that at least he’s not nauseous. Matt agrees but then cries out as his body aches become worse. Listen to him suffer, Sarah turns the car around and heads back.
She has called the owner of the house and he has come to let them into the house and is giving them a couple of mattresses to sleep on. Later, she is on the phone with Peter telling him about her “command decision” to rent the house without telling him because she couldn’t bear to force Matt to suffer the long car ride back home. Matt is lying in the living room watching an old black and white movie. He reaches up and switches it off, revealing the reflection of a figure standing behind him.
Later, Matt wakes up and hears strange noises upstairs. He grumbles to himself as he gets up and goes upstairs to the bathroom. He splashes water on his face and then goes back downstairs. He is about to lie back down when he again hears strange sounds. He gets up and follows them to the basement stairs. After trying the lights, he walks down the stairs in the dark into the basement. He looks around and sees that part of the basement is walled off behind a set of glass doors. He walks closer and seems to examine his reflection as he gets up to the glass his reflection changes to that of a distorted figure.
He sits up to find himself back upstairs on the mattress and he writes the experience off as a dream. Sarah calls him into the kitchen and as the two have some sort of bad-tasting beverage for breakfast she tells him that he can have first pick of the rooms before the rest of the family gets there.
Matt then is shown wandering around the upstairs, checking out the different rooms and examining a dumb waiter that goes to the basement. Sarah is in the front room straightening cushions on the window seat when she forces open a cabinet door and finds several framed photographs. These are the photographs that we saw at the beginning of the movie and as Sarah looks through them she becomes horrified as she realizes what they are and she rushes outside and hides them in the garbage. When she gets back inside she calls upstairs to Matt, asking if he’s picked a room yet. She is surprised when he calls back that he has, but his voice is coming from the basement. She walks downstairs to find him standing in the middle of the room and she asks him which one he choose and is surprised when he tells her that he wants the basement since it “chose him.” He then clarifies that it’s roomy and cool and has its own bathroom so he won’t disturb the family when he is ill. Sarah then sees the glass doors and asks him what is in there, Matt tells her he doesn’t know since the door won’t open and they both press their faces to the glass trying to see inside and are startled by the loud arrival of the rest of the family they both laugh and then goes upstairs.
Peter has arrived with the other children including Matt’s cousins Wendy and Mary. The children laugh as they run upstairs to claim their rooms. Sarah is showing the older cousin, Wendy, to the room she thought Wendy would like as it has a large closet. As they shut the door we can again see the reflection of a figure standing behind them in a mirror mounted on the closet door.
Matt is helping Peter move furniture into the house and his bed into the basement. Peter sees the walled off section and as he tries the knob wonders aloud if it was sealed off for storage.
That night as he sleeps, Matt begins to see visions of dead bodies being interred and it seems as if he seeing it from the point of view of a young man. He gets up and walks to the door he reaches for the knob and gasps in pain as it burns his hand.
The next morning, Matt is helping Sarah in the kitchen by setting the table. He grabs a stack of plates and places them on the table. He turns to grab the silverware and is taken aback when he sees that the plates are no longer on the table but are back on the shelf. He asks his mother why she moved the plates and she says she didn’t. He turns to grab them off the shelf again and they crash to the floor behind him from off of the table. Sarah rushes over to help him pick them up as he apologizes, he starts to tell her that he thought he saw them back on the shelf which concerns Sarah as one of the side effects of his new treatment is hallucinations and if Matt begins to see things he will be dropped from the trial. Matt angrily denies seeing things and admits he is just tired and set the plates too close to the edge of the table.
Later, Sarah is helping Matt into the house, as he is very week from another round of treatments. She helps him lean against one of the pillars on the porch while she runs back to the car for her purse. He puts his hand on the pillar to steady himself and stares in shock as his hand sinks into it revealing it is full of rotting meat. He calls for his mother and then backtracks when the vision ends.
That night he again has visions of the young man watching an older, bearded man carve symbols into the flesh of corpses. He sits up, his eyes still closed and the door clicks open as he walks into the previously inaccessible room. The next morning his brother Billy comes downstairs and is awestruck by the room that was the morgue of the former funeral home. He examines all of the tools that are still left in the room and jumps on the embalming table when Matt says he will give him a ride. Billy lies down and Matt begins to spin the table faster and faster. Matt continues to see flashes of images including a quick flash of a man loading sandbags into an empty coffin. As he sees these visions he keeps spinning the table as his brother begins to cry out to him to stop.
Peter comes in asking what all the commotion is and joking that they were able to get in because he loosened the knob. When he sees all of the tools he is taken aback and later takes Sarah out into the backyard and demands to know when she knew about the house’s history. She hesitates, and then admits she’s known for a while but wanted to take the house, as it is perfect for them. He says that he’s surprised she hid the truth since she is the one who always said that there can’t be lies in a marriage. She replies that that only applied to him when he was lying and drinking. Hinting that there had previously been trouble in their marriage due to Peter’s drinking problem.
That night at dinner, Peter is telling the rest of the family about the house, but states that it doesn’t matter, as the house is theirs now. He asks if Matt wants to say Grace and the family joins hands and Matt becomes lost in another vision of a group of people having a séance with the young man he has seen previously who is called Jonah. He comes out of it to find the rest of the family staring at him in fear.
Later he is talking with Wendy and they are reminiscing about a book they used to read as children with the poems “The Man Who Wasn’t There” and “Two Dead Boys.” Wendy says that he is scaring her and he tells her to join the club.
The next day Matt is again at the hospital watching TV in a room with other patients when he hears a sound and looks in horror as he sees crabs crawling on the floor and on his legs and arm. He comes out of it as a nurse is drawing blood from his arm and he has a conversation with another patient, Reverend Nicholas Popescu. Matt confesses that he’s been seeing things and Nicholas cautions him to not mention it to the doctors as they wouldn’t understand and tells him that his wife also saw thing on her deathbed and the two of them are now seeing things as they are near to death. Nicholas gives Matt his card and tells him to call him if he needs to talk.
That night the family is in their respective rooms and Wendy is painting her nails and listening to the youngest cousin, Mary, talk to herself as she is playing with her dolls. The lights flicker and then die and Mary loudly asks for the lights to be turned back on and they do, but behind her you can see a withered hand with the symbols carved into them.
The next day Matt is playing hide and seek with his brother and cousin and as they hide he looks for them upstairs. He is looking in Wendy’s room when he is startled by a figure moving past him into the room. He is having another vision of Jonah who is franticly putting his belongings into a bag as a voice loudly calls his name. Matt follows Jonah as he runs down stairs and sees another figure grab Jonah and pull him into the basement. He follows and enters the morgue and jumps as the door shuts behind him and he is unable to open it. The room is no longer empty as every surface seems to have a shrouded body on it. As Matt stares at them he is shocked when one of the corpses’ feet twitches and he begins to shout for Wendy. He panics as the shrouds fall away and the withered corpses surround him, he pushes one away only to realize that he has instead shoved his little brother and again his family is frightened by his behavior.
Matt calls Nicholas and tells him about what he’s been seeing and Nicholas advises him to find out what the spirit wants from him. Later, Matt is in his room and painfully lowers himself to the floor and hooks his feet under his bed and begins to gingerly do sit ups. Matt sits up and finds himself face to face with a burned figure, he asks the spirit what it wants from him and the ghost begins to move towards him.
Later the rest of the family comes home and Sarah rushes into the front room at the call of the children. All of the furniture has been stacked in the middle of the room and Matt is found shirtless with his fingers bloody from scratching at the wall.
Sarah and Peter take him to the doctor who assures them that his strange behavior is not due to the cancer or the treatment he is receiving. The family is beginning to crack under the stress of Matt’s illness and increasingly bizarre behavior. Sarah tries to pray for him but breaks down in tears. Peter is also shown to be increasingly tempted to fall back into the bottle and we see that he finally has started drinking again when he is away from the family during the week and is seen watching slides of Matt when he is younger and crying.
The next day Mary and Billy declare that they are bored and ask Wendy who is reading nearby to play with them. She tells them to go and hide and they rush off. Billy decides to hide in the dumbwaiter and closes the doors before his cousin Mary can join him. Mary decides to hide in the attic. As Wendy begins looking for them Billy turns to find himself sharing the dumbwaiter with the burnt ghost and begins to shriek in terror. Mary tries to run out of the attic but her leg falls through a rotted section of the floor. Wendy helps Billy out of the dumbwaiter and they and Matt rush upstairs to find Mary stuck in the attic floor.
Matt helps her up and then realizes that there is something in the hole he reaches in and finds a metal box and a bundle of photographs. Later he and Wendy are sitting in the kitchen examining the box and the photographs. The photographs show Jonah at the séance emitting ectoplasm, inside the box is another one that contains strange strips of material that neither Matt nor Wendy can identify. Matt puts the box away then asks to see the photographs and Wendy sees the look of recognition he gets when he sees them. She convinces Matt to talk to her and he admits that he’s seen the boy in the photos every day since they moved into the house and Wendy suggests the house may be haunted and they should check out its history.
She researches at the library and finds out that the funeral home was run by a man named Aickman who was the sinister bearded man that Matt has seen in his visions. Aickman also conducted psychic research and would host séances with Jonah as the medium. But most disturbing is the fact that at one of the séances all those attending, including Aickman, were found dead and Jonah disappeared. Later, in the 1950’s, the state was building a new road that would run through part of the cemetery near the house and when the coffins were exhumed it was discovered that many of the bodies had disappeared and were never buried. Matt and Wendy then contact Nicholas to seek his help.
Nicholas examines the photos and the box and realizes that the smaller box contains the eyelids that Aickman cut off of the corpses in the course of his processing the bodies. He theorizes that Aickman was practicing necromancy in an attempt to control the dead and binding them to the house. He realizes that Aickman did this in an attempt to magnify Jonas’ medium abilities. He asks Matt and Wendy to take his hands and pray with him for the souls of the missing bodies and for Jonah.
When Matt takes their hands he again is drawn into a vision of that final séance, as he watches Jonah begins to painfully emit the ectoplasm from his mouth as Aickman looks on. The table shakes and the ectoplasm glows bright and seems to turn to fire. He is broken from the vision when Sarah comes home and demands to know who this stranger is that is in her house. Nicholas attempts to explain and warn her about the spirits in the house and their intentions toward Matt because he is near death. She again asks that he leave and he does, but gives her a card and tells her she is not alone.
That night the family is asleep when Wendy is awoken by the sound of birds in her room and a loud thud when it seems one has hit the window. She hears it fluttering on the floor and she looks down to see the sheets on her bed moving as if the bird were fluttering underneath them. She begins to creep closer when she suddenly sees a man’s feet by her head; she jumps up and sees a figure standing over her. She grabs her lamp, but the figure is gone when she shines the light where it was.
Sarah is asleep when she woken by footsteps, she sleepily calls for Peter, then Matt and realizes that it is neither. She sits up only to come face to face with one of the withered corpse figures and screams.
Outside, Peter’s car jumps the curb and drives across the yard and he unsteadily gets out and is disgusted to see that every light in the house is on. He slams the door and begins to loudly shout at everyone for having the lights on and costing him even more money. Sarah quickly gathers the family together in one room and locks the door but Peter bashes it open and yells at them while he removes the light bulbs from the room and then goes around removing all the light bulbs in the house and then smashing them in the kitchen sink.
Sarah follows him outside and angrily tells him that he was acting childishly and all he’s done is frightened his family. She tells him that if he gets drunk again to not bother to come home and storms back inside.
After Peter leaves, the family is again asleep when all of the electronics in the house go haywire. The cacophony terrifies the family and in desperation Sarah contacts Nicholas. As Nicholas searches the house he explains to her how spirits can become trapped and he goes into the basement where Matt is curled up in his bed seemingly in pain. As Sarah comforts Matt Nicholas looks into the morgue and sees the burnt figure of Jonah. He goes into the room and tries to examine the furnace but is unable, as the doors slam shut. The family is terrified as doors throughout the house begin to slam open and shut and Nicholas decides to try and get at the furnace from outside the house. As he staggers outside Sarah continues to comfort Matt but is unable to see Jonah’s spirit, as it looms closer and closer to Matt. Nicholas manages to open the back of the furnace and finds a fragment of a skull amongst the ashes. He removes the remains and as he staggers away from the house, the activity stops.
As he leaves with the ashes, Nicholas tells Sarah that the activity should stop, but there may be “aftershocks” of strange activity for a couple days afterwards. Sarah thanks him and he drives off. In the basement, Matt looks out the window and sees Jonah’s spirit staring at him from outside before he rolls over and goes to sleep.
Matt awakens later to find that something has carved Aikman’s symbols into his flesh and he begins to scream. Sarah runs downstairs and demands to know what he’s done to himself. Matt is loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital where he’s placed in a room with a man who is muttering to himself. Matt stares at the ceiling but then looks at the door to see Jonah standing there.
Nicholas is driving home with Jonah’s remains when he sees Jonah in his rearview mirror, which distracts him, and he nearly crashes into a truck. He runs off the road and as he stares at Jonah he and Matt begin to have simultaneous visions.
We see Jonah waking up after the flames had burst from him during the séance. The attendees are burnt corpses and Aickman is dying from his burns, Jonah runs to him and Aickman gasps for him to run as, “Now they’ll be after you.” Jonah runs as the house comes alive and he is driven upstairs where he climbs into the dumbwaiter. As it descends into the basement he shouts for help but is hurled into the furnace, which comes alight and burns him alive. After imparting this final vision to Nicholas, Jonah’s spirit disappears as his ashes float out of Nicholas’ car.
Peter meets Sarah at the hospital and apologizes for his behavior but Sarah tells him it’s all right as he is there now. The doctor tells them that Matt is sedated, but they’ve discovered that his cancer has worsened, as the treatments have had no effect. He tells them that Matt is going to die and he has no idea what is keeping him alive. Sarah asks if they can see him, but when they get to the room they find a hole in the window where Matt has escaped and the disturbed man is muttering the “Two Dead Boys” rhyme over and over. We see Matt running through the night back to the house as the doctor calls security.
Back at the house Wendy is settling Billy and Mary back in their rooms when she goes to bite into an apple and gags as she finds it has rotted on the inside. She goes downstairs and finds that all the food in the house has rotted and she throws it away outside. After spilling something on herself she decides to take a shower, missing Nicholas’ frantic phone call. He leaves them a message saying that he made a mistake, Jonah’s spirit was actually trying to release the bound spirits and now that Nicholas has removed him from the house they are now at the mercy of the bound spirits’ rage and they must get out. Mary misses the call and as she gets out of the shower she is attacked, the shower curtain wrapping around her and nearly suffocating her. She runs upstairs to get Billy and Mary when she sees Matt enter the backyard carrying an axe. She panics and runs back in to tell the children to hide as she locks the door, only to have Matt break through with the axe.
Wendy runs into the front room and screams as Matt brings the axe down… into the wall behind her. As she scrambles out of the way he begins to chop through a false wall revealing the corpses Aickman hid in the walls. Matt forces Wendy and the children out of the house telling her to not let anyone stop the fire. He barricades himself in the house and begins to tear down the other false walls as marked corpses begin to tumble into the room. As he swings the axe the view switches from Matt to Jonah, who seems to be occupying Matt’s body. After he finishes knocking down the walls, Matt gets bottles of formaldehyde from the basement and lights the bodies and the room on fire and crouches in the middle of the room to await the flames as the bound spirits gather around him.
Sarah and Peter arrive with the fire department and frantically try to get in to save Matt. Nicholas also arrives and Sarah asks him why it isn’t over. Sarah gets around a firefighter and into the house and grabs Matt and drags him under a table to avoid the falling timbers. The spirits appear again, but then finally disappear, seemingly freed as a firefighter breaks through the wall to pull Matt and Sarah from the house.
Outside, Sarah watches frantically as the emergency crew attempts to resuscitate Matt. As Matt slips away he has a vision of himself standing in the graveyard where he sees Jonah, no longer appearing burnt, standing in the distance. He seems about to follow Jonah when he hears his mother’s voice and returns to his body where he coughs and Jonah’s spirit leaves him, appearing next to Nicholas before finally disappearing as he can now move on. As Sarah hugs Matt, Nicholas walks away as the family gathers around Matt.
As Sarah narrates how God works in mysterious ways, we are told that Matt’s cancer disappeared and he made a full recovery and that the house was rebuilt and resold and the new owners reported no further incidents of haunting.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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The spirit of Jonah was trying to warn Matt and the Campbell family about the angry spirits in the house.
Years before Dr. Aickman, a funeral director, used the bodies of the people he was supposed to bury for his séances, using necromancy to amplify Jonah's ability as a medium. The sprits however caused a fiery explosion during one of the séances, killing Aickman and his guests and trapping a frightened Jonah in the furnace to perish.
Father Nicholas (whom Matt met during treatments for his illness) mistakenly believed Jonah was the angry spirit, removing his remains from the house before having a vision of the truth as Matt learns himself.
After escaping from the hospital, Matt barricades himself in the house and tears the walls down to expose the embalmed corpses. He sets them on fire, releasing the spirits from the house. His mother rushes in to save him and they are both rescued by the fire fighters as the house burns down. Father Nicholas and Matt both see the spirit of Jonah move on as the film ends.
In the epilog, Matt recovers fully from his illness and the Aickman house was rebuilt with no further disturbances reported.