Skeptic, The

Will This Movie Make You a Believer?  Probably Not, but I Enjoyed It

Main Cast: Tim Daly

Director: Tennyson Bardwell

Skeptic posterSo I just finished watching The Skeptic with Tim Daly (“Wings”), Tom Arnold (Soul Plane) and Zoe Saldana (“Rosemary’s Baby”), and my initial reaction is, I shrug my shoulders, it’s a middle of the road horror movie.

Daly plays “dead inside” lawyer Brian Beckett, and we know he’s dead inside from the first because he not only reacts to the death of his aunt with “we get the house”, but he also then “takes a break” from his wife and son because his wife, now in her 40s, expects Brian to show some emotion, for the first time in his life. Brian answers this plea with a flippant “she knew what she was getting into when she married me”, packing his things, and retreating to the dead aunt’s three-story mansion in order to “settle her affairs” and sell her estate.

So already we’re not exactly sympathizing with our main character. His best friend and law partner, Tom Arnold, agreeing with him and being fine with his lack of empathy isn’t helping things.

From the first night in the house, Brian begins to hear things. Scratches and thumps in the night turn into whispered voices the next night. He seeks guidance from a scientist who runs a paranormal study at a local college when he finds out his aunt didn’t leave the house to him, but to the researcher’s lab for further study as she was convinced it was haunted. The researcher assures Brian he doesn’t believe in the paranormal either, and whatever Brian is hearing in the house can be explained away in a non-supernatural way.

One of the researchers “patients”, however, Zoe Saldana, insists Brian has every right to be concerned, and that there’s definitely something in the house.

The Skeptic was a typical haunted house story, built on atmosphere and tension rather than gore and an ever-growing pile of dead bodies. Writer/director Tennyson Bardwell gets several things in the haunted house genre right in this movie and makes the house feel like another whole character with a backstory and motivation.

The unraveling mystery behind what lurks within the house, as well as Brian’s recovered memories, provide some of the movie’s creepiest and most memorable moments, leaving me, personally, thrilled.

Now onto the bad.

The dialogue is stiff beyond belief, full of unnecessary words and exposition, leading the viewer along and always reminding them of what’s come before, just in case we’re too stupid to actually watch a movie unsupervised. Bardwell can structure a plot alright, but his dialogue needs another pass by someone a little more removed from the material.

While I thought Daly nailed the character of emotionless void, Brian, I had some issues with the portrayal of this character by the director. Okay, we know Brian’s got emotional issues, most likely stemming from his childhood, which we slowly learn more and more about as the movie progresses. But I think a little subtlety in revealing Brian’s cold heart would have gone a lot further than just spilling everything upfront, dead aunt gets no tears, opens up the chance for him to abandon wife and kid in order to teach a wife a lesson, that lesson being “I’m a guy, we don’t cry” (which is another cliché that seriously needs to go away. It’s 2014, people, we’re trying to have a civilization here). Sure, he makes a hell of lawyer with that mindset, but I think I still have the bruises from where Bardwell beat me over the head with it. Yeah, I’ve written a similar character before, but I also allowed for moments of love and devotion to his wife and child. I mean he wasn’t a total ice king, jeez!

My biggest and final complaint about this movie is the ending. The climax lacked suspense or even any sort of real buildup, and the final two minutes of the movie left me feeling like Brian Beckett, devoid of emotional response. Also, I’m not entirely sure if the ending was supposed to be syrupy sweet or sinister. I BELIEVE it’s the former, but if that’s true, Bardwell just shot to hell any amount of suspense of horror he’d built up over the former 90-some minutes. If it was meant to be sinister, it just plain failed. Either way, I definitely felt let down by the ending, and I don’t just mean let down like from a step stool, this let down is more of the falling off the Empire State Building type. TOTAL friggin’ kick in the face to all the time I’d spent watching the movie.

That being said, I really enjoyed The Skeptic. It did what it needed to do as a haunted house movie, and as a long-time fan of anything Tim Daly does, I thought he was great in here. I also have to mention Arnold and Saldana who both, to my great surprise, were better versions of themselves and in the end made me like them. I won’t be first in line for the next movie Saldana stars in, but at least I won’t roll my eyes the next time I see her in a movie.

So that’s my positive takeaway, and I suppose that’ll be good enough for this one.

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