The Bowen family - Eric (Sam Rockwell), Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and Madison (Kennedi Clements) - move into a new home. Upon arriving, Griffin wanders through the house. He notices Maddie talking in front of her bedroom closet to an unseen presence. Griffin also hates that his room is in the attic. He hears a noise in the corner. He opens a door to a cellar and sees a red ball on a string. He pulls it and a bunch of creepy-faced clown dolls pour out. Griffin gets Eric to investigate. A squirrel then pops out of nowhere and frightens them. Griffin chooses to sleep somewhere else until the squirrel is gone.
Griffin catches Maddie talking in front of the closet again. This time she shows him a trick where she touches the handle of the closet and her hair stands up. Griffin tries it and they both laugh.
Some of the electrical items in the house begin to turn on by themselves. Kendra's phone gets ruined, which she blames on Griffin. At night, the kids' toys and several lights go on and off. Griffin walks downstairs and sees Maddie talking in front of the television. A bunch of hands press up against the screen. Griffin runs to protect Maddie but is pushed by an invisible force. Eric and Amy go downstairs to see Maddie in front of the TV. She turns to them and says, "They're here."
Griffin notices more of the weird things happening in the house, but nobody listens to him. He raises his voice to his parents, making Amy say that he's behaving like a baby. He runs back to his room, hurt.
Eric and Amy go out to dinner with some friends, leaving Kendra to babysit. The couple learns from their friends that their house was built on an old burial ground. The spirits in the house begin to properly haunt the kids. Kendra's new phone flickers and she hears a three-note sound that she follows to the basement. The floor cracks open and oozes black sludge. To her side, Kendra sees a skeletal ghost. Then a hand pops out from the sludge and grabs her leg. In Griffin's room, the tree over the house beats against the window during a thunderstorm. The creepy clowns start moving everywhere until one doll actually attacks him. The branch then breaks through the window, almost hitting Griffin with broken glass. He runs to Maddie's room to find her huddled in the corner as the closet is creaking and making a weird sound. Griffin runs to get help and is pulled by the branches of the tree. In Maddie's room, several lights head toward the closet. Maddie's Piggycorn doll rolls into the closet. Maddie follows it until she sees that she is deep in her closet. A pair of hands grab her and pull her into the darkness. Eric and Amy return to find Griffin in the tree until he falls from it. Kendra runs out and says she can't find Maddie. The family looks everywhere until Griffin hears Maddie's voice in the TV. She's calling for her mom.
Amy and Griffin visit the office of Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Addams), a paranormal researcher. Griffin blames himself for what happened to Maddie because he left her alone, and he asks Brooke to help bring her back. She takes on the Bowens' case with her assistants Sophie (Susan Heyward) and Boyd (Nicholas Braun). They go to the family's home to find any sign of Maddie. Boyd sits on a chair that flies from under him and up against the wall. The crew sets up to record whatever they can. Boyd goes into the closet to add a heat sensor. He taps the wall and finds a hollow point to drill through. The drill gets pulled into the wall, creating a huge hole. Boyd sticks his arm in there and gets pulled against the wall. The drill starts to make holes closer to Boyd's face until he is let go with a red mark on his arm. He looks back at the wall with no hole and back to his arm with no mark.
Boyd runs back downstairs with everyone else, now definitely believing their story. Brooke suggests that this is the work of a poltergeist, which means these spirits can interact with the living world for their own means, and there is more than one spirit involved. The team and family get contact with Maddie through the TV again, until the poltergeists push the TV and break it. Eric goes into Maddie's room and smashes through the wall with a table leg, and then shoves a huge part of the table through the wall. This opens a portal from the closet to the living room ceiling. Brooke then decides she needs to call in the only person she knows who can stop this.
She calls in Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), the host of a paranormal investigation series, and her ex-husband. Carrigan suggests that Maddie has a gift that allows her to communicate with the spirits, and her purity is the key for the spirits to move forward. Although Eric is hesitant to trust Carrigan, he knows he has no other choice if he wants to get Maddie back.
Together, they throw a rope through the closet and out the ceiling to make a chain with which to bring Maddie back. Carrigan uses one of Griffin's toy drones to fly in with a camera for a sign of Maddie. The drone flies through the portal, giving everyone a view of the house, infested with countless spirits. The drone eventually finds Maddie, who hears her family and calls to them. Three spirits pull her back, alerting everyone. As the adults argue as to who should go in, Griffin runs upstairs and goes to save Maddie himself. He goes through the portal and finds Maddie. The poltergeists pull the rope and throw it through the other end. Griffin takes Maddie and runs toward the exit. The two of them fall from the opening of the ceiling. Their parents revive them and embrace them.
The family starts to pack their bags after thanking Carrigan, believing the house is clean. Maddie says it's NOT clean, despite Amy thinking she helped get the spirits toward the light. Maddie says she didn't since she was pulled out before they could go. Eric starts to drive the family out until the poltergeists attack again and push the car through the house. They begin to pull Maddie back toward the closet. The family runs over to save her. The spirits then emerge in their ghoulish forms to pull Maddie back themselves. Carrigan then commands the spirits to retreat and leave the family alone. He knows what he must do to stop this. He runs up to the room and allows the family to escape while he gets pulled into the portal himself. The Bowens retreat in Sophie's car and drive away. Maddie then sees a beam of light burst from the house, suggesting the spirits have moved onto another realm.
In the aftermath, the team tries to find a sign of Carrigan. After spotting nothing for a while, they find a signal near the bottom of the house.
The Bowens start to look for a new home. They visit one house that the realtor describes as having big closetspace. After seeing the big tree outside and other reasons not to stay, the Bowens leave and decide to just get out of town.
Shortly after the credits start, we see Carrigan (alive and well) in his show, only with Brooke joining him. She tries to do his show's catchphrase, to his disapproval.
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