I always feel a little gypped when a self-professed horror movie ends up taking the "it was all in his head" road. If there wasn't really anything supernatural or murderous behind the whole thing, does that really make it a horror flick? Isn't that one of the main things that makes a movie a horror rather than a thriller?
For the sake of argument -- and because it's never actually cleared up whether it really was all in his head -- we'll call The Skeptic a horror movie. It's a spooky ghost(?) story, centering on Bryan (Tim Daly, of "Wings" fame), who is -- you guessed it -- a skeptic. He's also an attorney, so it makes sense that he's suspicious by nature. Bryan is virtually a stone, a Tin Man, but without the drive to secure a heart for himself. His wife accuses him of being too unemotional, which he resents not because of its validity, but because she knew this going in. His best friend (Tom Arnold) commiserates but agrees with the wife.
When Bryan's aunt passes away he moves into her gigantic old Victorian house to settle her affairs (and take some time off from the old ball and chain). It's not long before things get eerie. He starts hearing voices whispering to him and begins seeing strange figures. After a little delving, he discovers that his childhood was not exactly what he remembers. He finds that his mother, who fell down the stairs to her death when he was five, was an abusive monster. Could her ghost be lingering in the house, eager to torture him some more? It's open-ended. Explanations are given for what Bryan hears and sees -- he goes to several folks in the town, including a research scientist (Bruce Altman) at a sleep clinic, who tells him his brain is playing tricks and his former child therapist (Edward Herrmann), who reluctantly gives up the dirt on Bryan's mother -- but then there's the priest (Robert Prosky) who warned him about the evils of the house early on; his own son, who claims that he heard someone in the closet calling out to him; and Cassie (Zoe Saldana), the supposed psychic who tweaks out while in the house because of all the "energy."
Despite the ambiguity, The Skeptic is actually decently scary, at least up until the last 40 seconds or so. It's full of classic startling "Oh, no, there is someone or something behind you or upstairs!" moments, as well as those slow-building shivers of suspense. Big old houses are always kind of menacing -- anything could pop out at any moment and effectively ruin a good pair of underpants -- and perfect for putting in your head that something might be lurking about in your own closet or basement. Chances are that after watching this you'll start jumping at sudden noises or seeing random shadows that sort of look like someone you knew.
There's a deeper message, though, not to be ignored -- don't hide your kids' past traumas in the hope that they'll forget all about them and grow up to be a well-adjusted adult. Chances are something will be wrong with them, and they may abandon their deep-seated personality traits and start believing in ghosts (though, in Bryan's case, he gave up his faithlessness awfully easily considering what a notorious skeptic he's supposed to be).
DVD Bonus Features
There's nary a special feature on this disc, just a lonely trailer for the movie.
"The Skeptic" is on sale December 8, 2009 and is rated NR. Horror, Thriller. Written and directed by Tennyson Bardwell. Starring Tim Daly, Zoë Saldana, Tom Arnold, Edward Herrmann, Andrea Roth.