AUGUST 27, 2012
I had a nice conversation with someone yesterday who asked what I've learned after 5.5 years of daily horror movie watching (besides realizing I'm kind of weird), and I realized while watching Stevie that I left out one thing - watching too many movies of a type can kind of kill their chances of being successful. I can too easily see the tricks and attempts at misdirection now, so I was sadly able to call this one's twist pretty early.
But is this just my enhanced movie detective skills at work, or was the movie just sloppy? Certainly I'm still able to get fooled - I didn't see Saw VI's twist coming, for example, and that's part of a series that is built around twists, i.e. I'm always actively looking to figure it out. But here I wasn't even trying to figure out any sort of surprise ending - the movie just gave away a crucial bit of info too early on, I think. At first it seems like a Killer Kid movie, with things happening that might be the actions of the protagonist's new adopted child, but then like a half hour or so into the film, we see something that has to be a ghost (a word writing itself on a fogged mirror), and thus the question is: who's the ghost?
At the same time, throughout the film we've been seeing flashbacks to a car accident involving the mother (Catherine McCormack), but without any clue as to what they have to do with what's happening in the present day. One could assume that perhaps it left her unable to have children (hence the adoption), but there's no reason to make that as a reveal. So what's the only other option? Obviously (to me) (and SPOILER) she was pregnant at the time, and the ghost is that of her child, killed as a result of the accident. This information is finally delivered with five minutes left in the film, putting me nearly a full hour ahead of the film.
And it's a shame, because I think that's a pretty good twist, and a few edits could have made it more successful (or at least, perhaps I wouldn't have figured it out so soon). The car accident could have been shown in full at the top, followed by a "Three Years Later" card when we go to the present day and stay there until the very end, rather than the constant back and forth (think the scene where Bruce got shot in Sixth Sense). The foggy mirror scare could have been removed as well, as it's not particularly scary and tips off the true nature of what's happening (i.e. that it's NOT a demented little girl) long before it's necessary to do so.
On the other hand, there is a plot point that I quite liked and don't see too often - by the end of the second act, the mom actually believes the little girl when she says her "imaginary friend" (the title character) is doing these things, rather than remain in stubborn disbelief until the climax. Unfortunately everyone else just thinks the mom is going crazy, which is what causes the drama for the rest. Being a television movie, there isn't a lot of action or violence (I don't think Stevie causes any actual harm in the movie), so it's good that they made up for the slow pace by at least going outside the box a bit.
Otherwise, I just amused myself with the movie's peculiar setting - they shot in Barcelona, but it's supposed to be Canada? And our heroes are from California, but everyone has Spanish accents (except for McCormack, who is British), so it's just really odd. The little girl in particular is clearly not as comfortable with the English language, so I don't know why they didn't just have everyone speak Spanish and either dub McCormack later or hire a Spanish actress of equal or greater value (it's not like she's a huge star, no offense to her).
I also enjoyed the cinematography by Jacques Haitkin, best known (to me) for being the DP on Shocker. He's a big fan of slowly pushing the camera in while tilting it to the right or left around 30 degrees, and it gives the film an extra dose of energy that it really needs, as not much is ever really happening. The script relies too heavily on what should be 1st act scares all the way through - do we really need (at least) TWO scenes where magnetic letters on the refrigerator are used to form the word "GOODBYE"? Isabel's gigantic new dollhouse also gets enough screentime to qualify for 3rd or 4th billing. Come on, Stevie - mix it up a bit!
I know this was a TV movie, but I'm not sure where it aired. I assume the Lifetime channel, which is a perfect fit for its low-key chills and emphasis on drama and family issues (both of the protagonists are workaholics!) over the horror elements. And for that, it's fine, but otherwise I suggest Don't Go To Sleep, another TV movie which covers similar territory, or Shock, if ghost/kid combos are your thing (Ghost Son is another option).
What say you?