2009’s THE SKEPTIC has a measly 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What? That is waaay harsh. I’m here to tell you that it’s pretty good and if you read reviews from those who approached the film in the right spirit you’ll hear mostly the same. Frankly, I’m a little stunned that so many picked this particular movie to rake over the coals when there is so much worse out there. It’s not like it’s incompetent or something, it’s just a tad on the meek side. The most common complaint from critics seems to be that THE SKEPTIC feels like a television production from the seventies or eighties. In my world that’s not a minus, that’s a plus. I can get into a quiet movie that doesn’t embarrass itself trying to shock me every five minutes. If you are a fan of haunted house movies and you can tolerate a movie with modest goals, I see no reason why you would not find THE SKEPTIC reasonably entertaining. It’s certainly not as horrendous as an 8% approval rating would suggest. Geez critics, lighten up.
TIM DALY (STORM OF THE CENURY) plays Bryan Becket, the title skeptic who inherits a seriously impressive house from an Aunt who has kicked the bucket. Bryan is a grounded, rational lawyer who is proud of the fact that he believes in nothing. You won’t be surprised to learn that he ends up having to reevaluate his worldview when once in the house he experiences what appears to be ghostly phenomenon. An eccentric psychic lady named Cassie (ZOE SALDANA, of the same year’s STAR TREK) convinces Bryan to let her stay in the place too and together they learn that it’s Bryan himself who is haunted by a dark past.
Another big complaint thrown at writer/director TENNYSON BARDWELL’s film is that it has all been done to death before, but I think it’s actually pretty rare to find a haunted house flick that delves into an adult male’s psyche and allows its protagonist to be as vulnerable and broken as DALY becomes as he unearths a history of abuse. The performance leans toward the histrionic at times but there’s something compelling about watching someone who thinks that he has all the answers discover he doesn’t have a clue. One scene involving a creepy doll caught me completely off guard when, unhinged to the extreme, DALY’s face distorts in half laughing/half crying anguish to the point where he was completely unrecognizable. TYNE would be proud.
I guess sending a movie this unassuming into theaters is a bit like throwing your Grandma in a wrestling ring. I probably would not have been too happy if I had paid 15 bucks to see it either but it’s a comfy snug fit for late night Netflix Streaming (where it’s currently available.) The journey the character takes is heavy-handed but still worthwhile and I have to admit to getting sufficiently wrapped up in the mystery of the house (and what a house!) There are a couple decent scares too, nothing to keep you up at night but sufficient enough to keep you on edge. The original script actually was written in the eighties and that might explain why it’s a bit hokey, but I found the general temperate approach a refreshing change. It may sound like I’m just old and out of it but I like the idea of horror movies coming in as many types and tones as possible and that includes reserved and earnest (not to mention consistently autumnal) flicks like this. The New York Times’ Stephen Holden is quoted as saying, “I’ll take a bunch of teenagers terrorized by chain-saw-wielding zombies any day.” Me? I’ll take both.