Think “Fatal Attraction” crossed with “Poltergeist” and considerably dumbed down, and you have an idea of what this movie has in store for you. There are a couple of surprises and chills, but I am sure it is nothing compared to the horror in store for whomever persuaded Harrison Ford to follow up “Random Hearts” with another movie that fails so miserably.
And that horror is nothing compared to what is in store for the idiot who decided that the advertising campaign for this movie should give away one of the two big surprises. To the extent that the first half of the movie had any suspense or interest whatsoever, it has been destroyed by telling the audience that it is all a red herring before they even come in the door.
The story is about Norman (Harrison Ford), a professor of genetics, and his wife Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer), a former cellist who is a bit at a loss after her only daughter leaves for college. But it turns out that her empty nest is not quite as empty as she thought. There seems to be a malevolent presence in the house. Norman, a scientist, does not believe in such things, and sends her to a psychiatrist (the wonderful Joe Morton). At first, Claire thinks it is the spirit of a murdered faculty wife. I won’t compound the mistakes of the ad campaign and give away any more developments, except to say that there are some scary surprises (usually telegraphed by the music and camerawork), some tense and creepy moments, and what lies beneath turns out to be, well, lies. In case you need help on that last part, a store that literally plays a key role is called “The Sleeping Dog.”
The movie seems to try to follow a recipe — two parts Hitchcock to one part ghost story — with elements from “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” and “Rebecca.” Doors swing open. Hinges squeal. Shadows loom. Music swells. And Michelle Pfeiffer, looking a little skeletal herself, gasps and runs from menaces from this world and the next.
This movie tries to do for baths what “Psycho” did for showers. But it doesn’t work. Hitchcock knew that suspense had to be about something. He brilliantly universalized his own neuroses to tap into the audience’s horrified fascination. Director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” “Back to the Future”) tries to do that here, enticing us with the messy reality under the surface of the apparently perfect couple. But Norman and Claire (and Ford and Pfeiffer) don’t draw us in. Norman’s insecurity over his father’s achievements and Claire’s loss of a sense of self over giving up her career seem colored-by-numbers. And, though they are two of the most talented and entrancing stars ever, neither of them is up to the tasks set before them by this script.
Parents should know that the movie may scare young teens, especially those without much exposure to the conventions of horror movies. Younger teens may also be concerned about the marital conflicts and adultery displayed in the film. The movie has sexual references and situations, brief strong language, and many scenes of peril, suspense, and betrayal.
Families who see this movie should discuss whether they believe in the supernatural, and what they might do if they felt a ghost had moved into their home. Some teens will be interested in finding out about the paranormal research facilities at Duke. Families should also talk about the way that all actions have consequences, on a psychological level, if not a supernatural one.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Hitchcock suspense classics like “Rear Window,” “Suspicion,” and “Notorious” and, if they like ghost stories, “Poltergeist.”