ReviewWriter: Chan Sue ChingWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast:
NAWatch this if you liked:
Dakota Fanning is brilliant. And that's putting it mildly. She's only ten, but she excellently plays all the layers of her character - traumatised, confused, disturbed - so that it seems like she has a soul of a 35-year-old. Another pull factor of this movie is that of her co-star, Robert De Niro. He's almost outdone by the child prodigy, but holds his own playing an equally as intriguing character.
Emily (Fanning) is a happy, carefree child. She cuddles up one night with her favourite doll, hugging the assurance that her mother loves her "more than anything in the world," only to wake up to find that mummy has killed herself. She lies dead in the bathtub, soaked in her own blood, in the eerie shadows of candlelight. Husband David (De Niro) is lost in grief, blaming himself for not seeing the signs of suicidal depression, especially because he is a certified psychiatrist.
Emily is deeply traumatised. Gone are her innocent dancing blue eyes, and in place is a chilling, vacant stare. David decides, against fellow psychiatrist Katherine's (Famke Janssen) advice, to leave the place soaked with painful memories, so that he and Emily can start anew.
As is with most psychological thrillers, our protagonist must pick the right sanctuary. Ideally, it must be a fairly big house at least an hour away from the city. It must have plenty of closets, a spooky basement, and lots of windows framed with lacy curtains that blow in the wind. This is exactly what David chooses. Other plus points include a surrounding jungle and a few weird neighbours.
This clichéd beginning should be ample warning for all you thrill seekers that this psychological thriller is exactly that, clichéd. Expect the high-pitched violin bowing during tense moments, expect sharp knives to be readily accessible, expect that people will
go down to the dark basement where the only source of light is a swinging light bulb, expect that people will
open closet doors, look under beds, go poking their noses in all the places where evil might lurk, and then scream in surprise as if they weren't expecting it.
That said, the character development of the two leads is fantastic. Emily starts getting obsessed with her imaginary friend, Charlie, whom she insists is real. David at first encourages his daughter to use Charlie as a vent for the deep trauma she is going through. But it's not all rosy. He's still struggling with his wife's death, his neighbours seem fishy, and the local sheriff is always strangely hanging around. So he takes things easy at first, letting Emily manifest Charlie in her imagination.
However, when imagination starts taking an ugly shape, David starts to panic. Bloody writings on the wall, a dead cat and a shifty daughter with one too many dark rings under her eyes tell him that Charlie may not be so imaginary after all.
In terms of pace, the first hour might bore those familiar with the psychological-type scare tactics. However, when Charlie starts getting restless, the story in turn gets more engaging. After the surprise twist at the end (again, the surprise is dependent on whether you are familiar with the genre or not), the pace slows down again where the unravelling of Charlie is dragged on a few scenes too far.
But Dakota alone makes this movie worth the watch. Most memorable is her creepy, detached voice, colouring a different shade to the innocent hide-and-seek game when she whispers, "come out, come out, wherever you are". Cinema Online, 23 September 2008