OCTOBER 30, 2009
I was a big fan of 1408, so I was intrigued by the setup for The Skeptic, in which a similarly non-believing regular guy is placed inside a potentially haunted house. But where 1408 managed to milk a lot of entertainment value from a single room, Skeptic does nothing with its creepy old house setting, and ultimately resembles a TV movie, right down to the compact, abrupt ending that feels like the result of the filmmakers prematurely hitting their maximum allowed length than the actual end goal for a half dozen characters and subplots.
It also squanders a good cast. Tom Arnold may not be a shoe-in for any acting awards, but he’s usually an amiable presence, and he is cast here as the hero’s best buddy, something he’s often excelled at. But he has little chemistry with Tim Daly (how awesome would it be if Steven Weber was cast instead of Daly?), and their scenes are largely inert because of it. And the rest of the cast is filled with ringers like Robert Prosky (in his final role - bummer) and Edward Herrmann who never get much to do beyond deliver exposition (without ever giving a good explanation why they withheld this information from Daly for so long to begin with). Rounding things out is Zoe Saldana, whose character and scenes seem grafted in from a different film entirely. I’m racking my brain now; does her character even have a concluding scene? I know Arnold’s last appearance is ordering a drink at a bar so Daly can talk to Herrmann, but Saldana I don’t think even gets that much for closure. Again, the ending is as abrupt as they get, and the fact that none of the cast save Daly even factor into the climax (which is given away in the trailer) makes it all the more frustrating.
There is some admirable (and largely successful) effort to leave it up to the viewer as to whether or not the house is indeed haunted or if Daly’s character is suffering from delusions stemming from the failure of his marriage, medication mixed with alcohol, and resurfacing guilt over the death of his mother. But unfortunately, the story is so plodding (with so many go nowhere subplots distracting away from it to boot), I never really gave a shit either way. In Emily Rose, for example, I was generally concerned whether what I was seeing was real or imagined, and I enjoyed hearing both sides of the argument. Here, every time a plausible explanation was given for the latest sighting, I was just annoyed. “Fuck you movie, if the ghosts aren’t real then you got nothing good going for yourself.”
Plus the final reveal is just completely weak-sauce. He left a toy on the stairs which caused his mom to trip and break her neck? That’s it? The trailer was cut in a way to make it look like there was some killer doll action, but it was just that, clever editing. The biggest jolt in the film is when Saldana suddenly freaks out and breaks a glass. Even if everything WAS real, this is the least vengeful and thoroughly un-scary ghost in movie history.
On the plus side, it’s well made, largely well-acted (again, there are some chemistry issues, not just limited to Arnold and Daly), and the hero is a guy from Massachusetts named Brian (OK, BrYan), so there was some minor value in that for me. But it feels way too much like a 90s TV movie that was made on the quick in response to some theatrical hit (I wasn’t surprised to learn later that the film has been on the shelf for years).
Final note - it’s a shame Prosky (Grandpa Fred!), like so many others, went out on such a weak film (Paul Newman’s final theatrical release was Cars, Sean Connery retired after League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Gene Hackman has seemingly deemed Welcome To Mooseport as his swan song), but I guess it was nice of IFC to pick it up for release so we could enjoy his presence one last time. Thanks, fellas.
What say you?