Rating: R for frightening sequences and violence
Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
The illustrious Robert De Niro should be much better versed in the timeless rules of horror films:
1. Never move to the country.
2. Never seek out the source of a mysterious sound.
3. Never underestimate the power of a troubled child’s imagination.
4. RUN when the lights go out.
Complying with these simple steps would spare critics, paying
audience members and films’ characters a lot of unnecessary grief, anxiety and cash.
De Niro is miscast yet again as David Callaway, a respected NYC shrink with a loving wife (Amy Irving) and adorable daughter (Dakota Fanning as Emily). Unfortunately Mom consigns herself to a watery grave (bathtub suicide) and little Emily is rendered catatonic and thoroughly traumatized.
The answer? A ramshackle mansion in the middle of upstate nowhere. Complete with acres of sinister woods. David gives up his practice in order to devote full-time energy to Emily, but Emily has other plans involving imaginary playmate Charlie, who’s up to a lot of no good.
The clichés flow like tree sap; a menacing town sheriff and oddball neighbors, hidden doors that harbor secret passageways to musty dungeons, the gorgeous, words-of-wisdom colleague (Famke Janssen as Katherine) and dumbed-down dialogue. “Nothin’ to be scared of in these woods” – yeah, and pigs fly.
At its peak subtle hints of Rosemary’s Baby; at its valley an interminable rip-off of The Sixth Sense. De Niro is slumming and he knows it.
Acting dynamo Fanning (a mere slip of a girl at ten years old) gives a chilling performance but then she’s always the best thing in her bad movies. Just when it seems that her creepy countenance will save the day the film nosedives into a ludicrous psychological twist that drags it straight down to horror-film hell.