‘Molly, you’re too old for imaginary friends.’ ‘She’s not my friend and she’s not imaginary.’
The kind of horror film that premieres in the UK in the afternoon on Channel 5, which is to say exceedingly mild – though it evokes some memories of the wonderfully creepy run of horror films made within network standards and practices in the 1970s (Crowhaven Farm, The House That Wouldn’t Die, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence, Something Evil, etc). In fact, only in the context of something so well-behaved could an indecently old trick like the bathroom-mirror-apparition even raise a few hackles.
Divorced mom Rachel (Jeri Ryan – getting nasty IMDb comments about how rough she looks simply because she isn’t pretending not to be in her forties, for shame), who lives in downtown Detroit, takes a job in the leafy suburbs and is accosted by one of those pushy-smarmy real estate agents (Sarab Kamoo) who have to offload haunted houses (no spoiler) in movies like this (there’s one in An American Horror Story too) and winds up buying a des. res. at a dirt cheap price (an oddity of these things is that they’re too timid to name an actual dollar price on haunted real estate so the script gets fuzzy), bringing along initially unenthusiastic teenager Lizzie (Kay Panabaker), who is won over by the prospect of having a basement room, and younger daughter Molly (Peyton List), who has psychic powers signalled by her knowing when the phone will ring. That basement turns out to have a fake wall added to hide something and after a few sightings of a Ring-look bedraggled female spook (Jordan Trovillon, of Vanishing on 7th Street) Rachel researches her home (in a refreshing spin on a current cliché it turns out that the local newspaper isn’t digitised and a 404 error sends her back to the microfiche) to discover that a young bride, Greta, is supposed to have disappeared from the house in the 1950s. Of course, the woman was walled up by a domineering husband and is behind the haunting. Rachel waits an age before asking her nice psychic friend from work, Belle (Marianne Jean-Baptise, who surely ought to be finding better things to do), to help out. Also as in Ring – and The Woman in Black – just finding the desiccated corpse and burying it properly doesn’t end the curse … and, echoing a lot of 1970s shows, Greta possesses Lizzie, but can’t pull off the imitation because she doesn’t know she’s named after the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. Belle wanders around the basement doing exorcism things, which – in a potentially nasty twist – is a threat to the shifted spirit of the innocent teen rather than the malevolent miss. It’s all resolved quietly, with Lizzie saved after a confrontation on the stairs and some desperate mother love, the house back on the market – and Rachel giving an unheeded warning to the next buyers – and the spook still in the window.
It’s a too-familiar story, and the script by William Penick and Chris Sey is by-the-numbers, but Ryan is a worthy successor to Donna Mills, Hope Lange, Vera Miles and all those other glam young middle-aged mums who bought haunted properties in the 1970s and the kids are surprisingly sharp – I suspect both actresses will be teen princess stars in the next few years*. Directed by Christopher Leitch (of the Satan’s School for Girls remake and TV movies like Mind Over Murder and Housesitter), who is no John Llewellyn Moxey or E.W. Swackhamer.
*List was in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films and a ton of TV, though Panabaker has been quiet.