Rewind Review: 2009’s ‘The Skeptic’

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The Skeptic is a Horror/Thriller/Suspense movie written and directed by Tennyson Bardwell.  The fact that Bardwell completed his first draft back in the 1980’s might explain why this film doesn’t offer much in terms of innovation.  But a film doesn’t always have to be innovative to be good and, in this day and age, it’s almost impossible to come up with a truly original idea.

Read my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis:  Following the mysterious death of his aunt, power lawyer Bryan Becket moves into the elderly woman’s purportedly haunted Victorian mansion. A die hard skeptic, he dismisses one eerie incident after another, until the haunting turns so personal and vicious, Becket’ss cool, unemotional veneer begins to unravel. Whispers in the night, things he sees in the darkness, clues of a horrible secret, turn our rationalist into a terrified and reluctant seeker. A seeker of a truth so unspeakable it could destroy him. And the mystery, always just out of reach down the darkened hall, is not fully revealed until the film’s final moments. And even then, it leaves a tantalizing question.

Tim Daily is the die-hard skeptic, Bryan, and Tom Arnold (yes THAT Tom Arnold) is his open-minded associate, Sully.  These two men serve as foils, extreme points on a Skepticism Spectrum.  The film kicks off with an argument with each character finding fault in the other.  Sully accuses Bryan of not believing in anything, a condition he believes shows a lack of curiosity.  Bryan finds Sully completely gullible and, in the process of chiding him, equates belief in God with belief in the Loch Ness Monster.  It’s a moment that allows the viewer to reflect on his or her own position on the Spectrum.  It also set up the driving question of the plot: “What would it take to get Bryan to change his mind?”  Or, “Is it possible to be a skeptic and also believe in the supernatural?”

Several factors begin to soften Bryan’s iron stance.  There’s a creepy closet filled with religious relics, pages ripped from Bibles and scribbled scraps, as well as a possibly-possessed doll in a trunk in the basement.  He also suffers audio and optical hallucinations.

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Cassie, a brilliant and eccentric psychic played by Zoe Saldana, further influences Bryan by intruding into his home and demanding to spend the night.  Her research methods, however, seem to consist of little more than walking around with a candelabra in the dark.  To be honest, Cassie is one of the film’s weak points, a character who would be completely insufferable if she wasn’t sexy.  All attempts at whimsy fall flat and her hippy-dippy persona comes off as completely 2-dimensional.  She does a lot to stir Bryan up, but absolutely nothing to actually help him.

But even as Bryan slides from one end of the Spectrum to the other, Bardwell allows his viewers to remain noncommittal.  For every supernatural occurrence, we are offered a rational, scientific explanation.  There’s job stress, marital stress, and fear of aging—not to mention sleep deprivation, medication, alcoholism, and a family history of mental illness.  And let’s not forget those nasty repressed childhood memories.  The brilliance of The Skeptic is that it allows for multiple interpretations without lessening the emotional drama.  And whether you consider yourself a skeptic or not, the conclusion will speak to you directly.

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The Skeptic is a good movie, but not a great one.  Bryan lacks empathy for others and, therefore, it’s hard to really care much about him.  He’s a man who would rather live in a dangerous haunted house than allow himself to be emotionally available to his wife and son.  Not exactly “Father of the Year” material.  And while his saga is intriguing at times, he’s both selfish and ineffectual (as a husband, father, and a protagonist).  I also didn’t much care for the Scientologist undertones, namely the demonization of psychiatry.  I wonder if Tom Cruise or John Travolta were co-producers?

A revelation near the film’s conclusion serves as a somewhat satisfying twist. The Skeptic can also be enjoyed by those who enjoy watching a good “descent into madness”.  It’s definitely not a waste of time, but serious haunted house fans can find better examples.

2.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE 

Release Date May 1 2009
Studio IFC Films
Director Tennyson Bardwell
Writer Tennyson Bardwell
Starring Tim Daly, Tom Arnold, Bruce Altman, Edward Herrmann and Robert Prosky.
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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

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