Once upon a time, horror pictures like this one played urban grind houses and starred the B-movie likes of Wings Hauser. The gloss of A-list casting and slicked-up production values doesn't necessarily serve them well; in fact, it almost guarantees suspension-of-disbelief-quashing impatience with recycled genre tropes and credibility-stretching plot developments. Following the bloody suicide of his wife (Amy Irving), New York City psychologist David Callaway (Robert De Niro) makes the odd decision to uproot his wan, withdrawn nine-year-old daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning), and relocate to a rambling house surrounded by spooky woods. Emily's therapist Callaway's own protégé, Katherine (Famke Janssen) advises against the move, but Callaway ignores her. Haunted by night terrors and suspicious by nature, Callaway alienates his new neighbors by eyeing every adult man, from their realtor (David Chandler) to the local sheriff (Dylan Baker) and the bereaved dad next door (Robert John Burke), as though he were a potential child molester. His sole effort to introduce Emily to a girl her own age seems as much motivated by Callaway's attraction to the girl's aunt (Elizabeth Shue) as by Emily's loneliness, and is less than successful. So Emily finds an imaginary friend named Charlie, who loves to play hide-and-seek. Trembling Emily is soon blaming Charlie for a series of increasingly disturbing events: a mutilated doll hidden in a dumpster, threatening messages scrawled on the bathroom wall, the death of the family cat, a crudely drawn flip book that ends in a welter of gore. Callaway begins to wonder whether Charlie is real, an elusive psycho preying on his little girl. Or perhaps he's some kind of malevolent supernatural being either possibility is better than believing little Emily is a murderous bad seed. To give credit where it's due, director John Polson and screenwriter Ari Schlossberg scare up some authentically chilling atmosphere, laying on the spookiness and piling up evidence that something very creepy is going on with raccoon-eyed Emily. But the SIXTH SENSE-style revelation about Charlie is as inadvertently hilarious as such things come, and the film's last 20 minutes devolve into a tedious slog through the kind of pointless, predictable running and screaming that give horror movies a bad name.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: Once upon a time, horror pictures like this one played urban grind houses and starred the B-movie likes of Wings Hauser. The gloss of A-list casting and slicked-up production values doesn't necessarily serve them well; in fact, it almost guarantees suspens… (more)