Believe (2000)

JULY 16, 2012


Sooner or later I’m gonna have a kid or two of my own, and a few years after that I have to decide when they’re old enough to join me for horror movies. Obviously, hardcore stuff will wait til they’re older, but unlike my mom (bless her, otherwise), I think I’ll refrain from showing them things that they wouldn’t truly appreciate until they were a bit older and thus wiser. Sure, The Fly was cool to see because of the makeup FX and such, but as a kid I didn't have much use for what actually makes the movie great (the love story, the god complex, etc). My kid(s?) will have to be older before I show them stuff like that. But a movie like Believe, he can watch that when he’s like 6 if he wants; I’ll just tell him he's making a mistake and then go off into the other room and play his video games.

Interestingly, at times it reminded me of Lady in White, a movie I did see as a kid but probably should have waited until I was a bit older, despite the PG-13 rating. The racial overtones and subject matter went right over my head, and now as an adult I realize it was actually kind of important to certain plot points. But there’s nothing that “deep” here, as it’s just about some punk kid who gets sent to live with his estranged grandfather after pulling a prank at his private school, and how he then encounters a ghost and helps solve a very uninteresting mystery. The closest thing to subtext is probably at the very end when his love interest (a very young Elisha Cuthbert – go ahead and make a cougar joke, I’ll wait…) gives him a funny look when he asks about coming over. Yes son, they’re going to make out off-screen. Sorry, I told you it was kind of a lame movie.

Now, being aimed at teens, I’m fine with the lame scares and such, but why is it about a mystery that in no way matters to the kid that the movie revolves around? As we learn at the end (spoilers for a PG-13, 13 year old Canadian teen movie ahead!), the ghost was the fiancé of Cuthbert’s uncle, and the sister of the main kid’s grandfather (played by the dude who was the substitute Hans in Mighty Ducks 2!). When she died, they blamed each other for her death, and now hate each other. So after some low key scares, everyone finally meets up at once and the ghost appears to explain that she died being a total idiot, running into the road to save a deer that had already run out of harm’s way by the time she got there (she just stands there and gets hit; the deer never even noticed her). That’s it, that’s the whole story. The two men reconcile, the ghost disappears, and everyone joyously gets together for dinner.

But the kid doesn’t care! The ghost wasn’t really bothering him, he just saw it outside a couple times. It would matter to his grandfather, but until the very end of the movie he doesn’t do anything besides sit in his house and say things like “Don’t go there!” “Stay away from that girl!” and such. And I’m 32 or whatever, so I have more patience - I can’t see how any kid would find it exciting to watch some brat very slowly solve a mystery that in no way affects him (or anyone else really).

The kids will probably be more excited by the fact that the hero is like the MacGuyver of 12 year old haunted house designers, rigging up doors that lock themselves, fake mirrors to create ghosts, etc. He puts all these skills to use in a lengthy, fairly pointless excursion where he helps Cuthbert get back at some local kids who were mean to her (they scare them and embarrass them in front of some others), and it’s sadly the most exciting part of the movie even though we know it’s all a prank. But then young viewers might think it’s “cool” and try scaring people themselves and probably getting hurt, so it’s kind of irresponsible of the filmmakers to make it the only exciting part. Ultimately: the actual ghost is a bore that won’t interest anyone, but setting up a fake one inside condemned houses is fun! Knock yourselves out, kids!

Otherwise it’s harmless, forgettable fluff. As I’ve said before, it’s hard for me to gauge how effective it is with regards to its target audience, because my mom wouldn’t bother renting this sort of junk for me when I was that age – she’d opt for Freddy or Jason. So it’s like learning how to play Guitar Hero on hard and then trying to judge the difficulty of easy mode for a newcomer – I just don’t have the right frame of reference. But I assume most of the people who read this site aren’t trying to find movies for their kids to watch, so let’s just say it was a waste of my time on all counts. Regardless of my access to R stuff at an early age, I think I still know a quality “all ages” horror film when I see one, and this ain’t it.

Final note - glad I didn't see the trailer first or I'd like the movie even less. Not only do they compare it to The Sixth Sense (!!!) but Andrea Martin's cameo is pretty much played out in its entirety in the spot. You too can "believe" in the power of misleading a potential audience!

What say you?


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