Red Rose is Stephen King's take on the often repeated story of an academic taking a group of people into a haunted house to see what makes it tick and then suddenly bad things start to happen.
In this case the house is an early 20th Century behemoth in Seattle named "Red Rose" built by industrialist John P. Rimbauer (John Procaccino
) for his new wife Ellen(Julia Campbell
). In a flashback, we see that while the house was under construction John takes Ellen on a world tour. When she gets deathly sick in Africa, Ellen is nursed back to heath by local woman, Sukeena (Tsidii Leloka
), who Ellen brings back with her as her maid to the couple's new home in Seattle.
Red Rose seems like it has a bad nature from the beginning. A foreman is murdered during construction and Ellen and John's five year-old daughter mysteriously disappears without a trace. Later John himself commits suicide by throwing himself out a window at the top of Red Rose's tallest tower.
Over the years a number of men are killed in the house and a larger number of women simply disappear. Ellen continues to add rooms to the rambling mansion throughout her life until she also disappears mysteriously in 1950s. The Rimbauer family continues to own the house, though their fortunes decline and they are forced to support it with public tours until too many of the tourists go mysteriously missing on the property.
The film story starts properly in modern times when our academic, Professor Joyce Reardon, (Nancy Travis
), decides that she is going to use Red Rose to prove that psychic phenomena is real. She is dating Steve Rimbauer (Matt Keeslar
), the last of the family. He has decided to tear the place down and put up condos, but he will let Joyce have a weekend to prove her theories before the wrecking ball moves in on it.
Reardon thinks that by bringing a collection of psychically active people to the house she can reactive what she calls a "dead cell" and get the readings she needs on her scientific equipment to prove her theories. To that end she recruits Emery Waterman (Matt Ross
), Cathy Kramer (Judith Ivey
), Nick Hardaway (Julian Sands
), Victor Kandinsky (Kevin Tighe
) and Pam Asbury (Emily Deschanel
) to go with her and Steve to the house for the weekend. Each member of the party has a different psychic ability.
Emery, in particular, is terrified by the house. He is having frightening visions about it even before leaving his home. However, he is broke and needs the $5,000 Reardon will pay him to keep him and his overbearing mother financially afloat.
Despite Reardon's impressive collection of psychics, who she really wants most is a 15 year-old autistic girl named Annie Wheaton (Kimberly J. Brown
) who has tremendous powers of telekinesis (as a five year-old she plummeted a neighbor's house with boulders after their dog bit her). Annie's father refuses to let her participate, but her older sister, Rachael (Melanie Lynskey
), sneaks her into the group when Reardon agrees to pay for Annie's tuition at a special school for children like her.
Reardon's plans are also plagued by her department head, Professor Carl Miller (David Dukes
), who thinks her expedition is embarrassment to the college and a waste of time as Red Rose is not haunted. He tries to get her tenure revoked and in service of this goal he sends college newspaper reporter Kevin Bollinger (Jimmi Simpson
) into the house before the team arrives to get some embarrassing pictures of them involved in their "spook hunt."
Miller is quite wrong about the house, however, as Bollinger finds out when he is let into the house by Sukeena (who he does not realize is a ghost). He dies soon after in the conservatory. We later see his body hanging in the library.
Reardon's team arrives, gets to know each other, and settles in for the night. Pam is the first to die as she leaves her bedroom in the dark and is drawn to a fountain in the backyard and drowns. Her ghost later leads Victor into the backyard where the vision of a statue of Ellen Rimbauer coming to life gives him a heart attack. Sick, he returns to the house where Emory refuses to let him in thinking he is another of his visions. Victor dies just outside the house. When the group tries to retrieve the body, they realize that the doors are locked and the widows have become shatterproof.
Steve, finding a cell phone in the conservatory that he realizes must have been given to Bollinger by Miller, calls Miller telling him Bollinger is dead and that before he died he wrote Miller's name in blood on a wall (This is a lie as Steve has no idea of Bollinger's fate). However, it brings Miller to the house in a panic.
Also Emory's mother can't get a hold of him by phone and being incredibly possessive of him, she drives to the house to find him.
Annie has become fascinated with a doll house version of Red Rose on a high shelf. She attempts to reach it, but falls, knocking herself out. During the period she is unconscious Emory realizes that all the doors have become unlocked and comes to the conclusion that the house is using Annie's powerful abilities to keep them trapped. Unfortunately before he can escape, she re-awakes and the front door slams on the fingers of his left hand cutting them off.
In pain and being affected by the evil atmosphere of the house, Emory suggests knocking Annie out, or killing her so they can make their escape. The rest of the group are horrified at the idea, but do come to realize that they need to get to Annie's mind (blocked to them by the house) to ask her to open the doors so they can get away before the house kills them.
Miller and Emory's mother arrive at the same time and have a minor accident in the drive. The house seems to push Emory's mothers mind past the breaking point and she goes running through the grounds screaming for him chased by Miller. They later get separated and Miller is killed, though we dont see how.
Cathy goes to the kitchen to get something to drink where she runs into Emory's mother and the unhinged woman attacks her. Fortunately, Nick has followed Cathy and they manage to tie the crazed woman up. They head back to the rest of the group to tell what has happened, but are chased down the hall by a spook. Nick pushes Cathy though a door to safety, but is killed by the ghost.
Back in the kitchen the ghost of Sukeena and Ellen drag Emory's mother away and kill her.
Cathy finally makes her way back to the group. Along the way she has had a vision and realizes that John Rimbauer's death was not a suicide, but he was murdered by Ellen and Sukeena because he broke Ellen's heart with his infidelities.
Steve reaches the conclusion that Cathy may be able to get to Annie's mind by use of her skill: automatic writing. Giving a pen to both Annie and Cathy they both start writing. Cathy repeats a message to open the doors and soon Annie starts writing it too. The message finally get to Annie's mind and amid the wild protestations of the house the doors and windows are blown open.
The group tries to leave, but Reardon, now obsessed with having scientific proof of this physic phenomena, refuses to go. The group is forced to leave her behind. On the way out the ghost of Emory's mother tries to detain him, but for the first time in his life he gets up the strength to tell her no. Ellen also tries to stop her great grandson, Steve, from leaving by asking him to stay and help her continue to build the house, but he refuses.
Outside in safety Annie sends boulders down on the evil house, just as she did when she was a kid.
Inside Reardon finds herself surrounded by ghosts: Ellen , Sukeena, Miller, Bollinger, Nick, Kandinsky Emory's mother and Pam. As they close in on her she dies.
The action jumps forward six months and we see the survivors return the day before the house is to be knocked down. They leave seven red roses in the drive in honor of the people they lost. As they drive away we see the ghosts of Ellen, Sukeena and Reardon watching them from the tower window.