In director John Polson’s creepy thriller Robert De Niro plays David Callaway, a therapist left with a little daughter Emily. Both grieving over the death of their wife and mother. Emily found her mothjer’s blood-drained body in the bathtub, apparently a suicide, although she showed no signs of this when she tucked little Emily (Dakota Fanning) into bed the night of her death. Little wonder that the little girl is traumatized, withdrawing into herself so that not even her father can draw her out. Despite the advice of his colleague Katherine (Famke Janssen), who does seem to be able to communicate with Emily, David decides to start their lives over by leaving their urban home and moving to upstate New York.
Of course, the house is one of those big structures with lots of crawl spaces, closets and attics—just the kind to be found in horror movies, and no doubt very soothing to a disturbed child! Emily continues to be troubled, telling her father that she has a new friend Charlie. Messages in blood show up on the wall and curtain of the shower, and Emily’s behavior becomes increasingly menacing—she blames the bloody messages on Charlie. When David becomes interested in neighbor Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue), who brings her young daughter over for a visit, Emily not only is very unresponsive to their introductions, but also scares her young guest by poking out the eyes and pushing in the face of a doll while playing off by themselves. It remains a mystery to me why, when Elizabeth returns to the Callaways for a dinner date, minus her daughter, she never brings this up in the conversation!
Most critics have panned the film, but I did find some scenes scary. We are led down various paths concerning the mystery of Charlie: is he just the product of a devilishly ill little girl, or is he real—maybe the spooky Sheriff Hafferty (Dylan Baker), often lurking around and in possession of all of the keys of the cabins and houses in the area? Then, there is—well, one of the suspects we can quickly drop from the list due to an untimely end—again blamed on Charlie by Emily. For once I was able to guess the outcome, which means that the script is very transparent, and thus forms the basis for its rejection by so many critics. Best to wait on this film until the video rental stores remove it from their top-price rentals to the cheaper section. Although he is a top-notch actor, Robert De Niro has also chosen some less than desirable projects, this being one of them.