Judge Clark Douglas doesn't believe in bad filmmaking, no matter how persuasive the evidence.
What do you believe?
"Are you going to object to any of this?"
Facts of the Case
Bryan Becket (Tim Daly, Private Practice) is a high-powered attorney whose wealthy aunt has just passed away. Bryan never cared much for his aunt, but at least he'll finally get his hands on her considerable possessions. Bryan's marriage is going through a bit of a rough patch, so he decides that he's going to stay in the mansion by himself for a while. That may not have been the best idea. Unusual things seem to be happening. Bryan starts hearing strange creaks and moans in the house. At first he brushes off such things with the usual excuses ("It's the wind," "It's just a house noise"), but soon he begins to feel that it must be something more…sinister. To make matters even more complicated, it seems that the house was not actually left to Bryan, but to a mysterious laboratory dedicated to investigating the paranormal. What the Sam Hill is going on here?
There is some potential in the basic premise of The Skeptic, but the whole thing is more or less undone by its rather tedious predictability. Despite some decent acting and a handful of intriguing moments, the most mildly attentive of viewers will be able to tell precisely where the film is going in no time at all.
The film establishes Becket's character very quickly: he's a guy who doesn't believe in anything supernatural or spiritual. This means he absolutely refuses to believe in gods, ghosts, spirits, or any other such things. At his aunt's funeral, a priest asks him why he doesn't take the religious elements of the event seriously. "Kind of hard to do when the pope's going around wearing those silly hats," Bryan scoffs. Right, so that's Bryan for you. As the film proceeds, his certainty about the non-existence of supernatural beings starts to weaken. Eventually, the skeptic isn't so skeptical anymore. Oh, the irony! The film isn't aggressively bad by any means, just mundane and ordinary in its journey from point A to point Blah.
Tim Daly is a perfectly good actor most of the time, but I honestly didn't care much for his performance in The Skeptic. First, Daly has too much inherent nice-guy charm to really sell his early scenes as an obnoxious, self-absorbed jerk. If he doesn't quite manage to make those moments work, he's particularly unconvincing during the moments in which he declares his lack of belief. Bryan is supposed to go from confidently skeptical to nervously doubtful, but Daly seems to be tilting in the direction of belief from the very beginning. His defense of his doubt is half-hearted at best; he seems like a man who wants to lose an argument. I suppose it's a distant possibility that this could have been an intentional element of the character, but I sincerely doubt that given the film's lack of nuance and depth in other areas.
The rest of the actors do solid work, but they are stuck with repetitive and one-dimensional roles. Robert Prosky (Monsignor) plays the priest who offers warm words of wisdom and occasional prophecies of doom ("There's something not quite right about that house," he says quietly). Bruce Altman (Running Scared) is the psychic who offers advice about the stuff that lies in the world beyond. Tom Arnold (Gardens of the Night) plays the partner who offers those obnoxious fake-out "Boo!" moments (why do supporting characters in suspense/horror movies always insist on trying to scare their friends?) and who frets about Bryan's increasingly odd behavior. Edward Herrmann (I Think I Love My Wife) is the doctor who attempts to provide a rational explanation for everything. Though the actors all sell their lines with conviction, they cannot transcend the limitations of the script.
The other significant character is a peculiar individual played by Zoe Saldana. She's a volatile associate of Altman's character who has particularly strong intuitive skills when it comes to dealing with the supernatural. She turns up at Bryan's house approximately halfway through the film, volunteering to help him solve his problems. This stretch of the movie is lengthy, dull, and completely unrewarding, as the duo slowly but surely works toward uncovering the Becket family secrets. Who knew that supernatural revelations could be so boring?
The DVD transfer is okay. Close-up shots tend to look good, benefiting from stellar facial detail and warm colors. However, long shots tend to be pretty lacking in detail, partially due to the general softness of the image. Black crush is also a significant issue during some of the darker scenes. For whatever reason, a lot of these IFC Films releases tend to get somewhat less-than-remarkable DVD transfers. Audio is okay, though Brett Rosenberg's score sounds a bit more pinched and weak than it ought to. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Sound design is surprisingly minimal, considering that this is a haunted house movie with lots of creaking and moaning. The only extra on the disc is a theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For its many flaws, the movie is strangely watchable most of the time, the sort of thing one might easily get sucked into while channel-surfing. That doesn't help the sense of wasted time that one feels at the conclusion, but these 89 minutes are surprisingly tolerable given the blatant predictability of the film.
Failing to work both as a theological argument and as an exercise in suspense, The Skeptic will be heading towards the 5-dollar DVD bin very quickly.
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