Even without discovering that director Jim Sheridan tried to have his name removed, this major studio spookshow gives off panic vibes – a trailer that spoils the mid-point twist of the film and renders it pointless if you know it going in. It has a good (if barely stretched) cast, a reasonable (if overfamiliar) premise and one or two competent scares, but plods from one tame revelation to the next. If it were a TV movie made in 1972, it might just have got away with it – but this comes at the end of so many similar items that you have to figure it’s an off-the-shelf script (screenwriter David Loucka’s last produced screenplay was Borderline, 2002 … his last modest hit was The Dream Team,1989) taken up by a director in need of a mainstream hit after a string of underperforming midlist items (Get Rich or Die Tryin, Brothers) have buried the memory of In the Name of the Father and My Left Foot. It certainly feels like the usual syndrome when a director who thinks he’s better than the material tackles a horror movie – cf: Mike Nichols (Wolf), Neil Jordan (In Dreams), Mike Figgis (Cold Creek Manor). I’d guess Sheridan hasn’t even seen the films Loucka borrows from: he sets about reinventing the wheel and delivers a pompous ripoff like someone who thinks a ghost story needs to be turned into a psychological drama to make it significant enough to be worth putting on the c.v. It even has a generic title – half a dozen other films use it, all making more of the double meaning than this literalist fudge.
It opens with Manhattan publisher Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) – a name pronounced so stupidly it’s a tip-off that it’ll turn out to be a number 8-10-10 – leaving his job, bade farewell by friendly or creepy workmates, and moving with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and two adorable daughters (Taylor and Claire Geare) into a suburban home so he can start work on a book. Will discovers that their house is the site of a murder spree, when a husband seemingly killed his wife and daughters before being shot in the head … and the place is infested with pestering teenagers holding a séance, creepy loiterers and possible ghostly manifestations. The police are typically unhelpful when he complains, a neighbour (Naomi Watts) knows more than she’s letting on, simmering bastards played by Marton Csokas (in the film’s worst performance) and Elias Koteas are plainly guilty of something and (as the trailer gives away) when Will visits the asylum where the supposed killer was until recently resident he’s told that he is the man, and that he only imagines his family are still alive. All the cliches of the ‘imaginary friend’ movie are trotted out – the character who only talks to the protagonist, the fading of one reality (ideal home) into the truth (dilapidated wreck), the tritely unbelievable murder set-up, the premise-explaining shrink (Jane Alexander). In the finale, it seems that the ghosts have independent existence, and Libby tries to distract the villains as they are menacing her living husband, but this comes out of left-field, and isn’t really addressed by the film.