No matter how many times they film it, the “something creepy is going on in my house” story has a lot of potential. We’ve all heard creaks and wondered, on dark and stormy nights, if anyone — or anything — was out there. And most of us have enjoyed watching people on screen wonder the same thing…especially if it turns out to be true.
Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) is Dahlia, a vulnerable young mother recently separated from her husband. We’re not sure whether to believe her or not. Her husband tells the mediators that she “lives in a world of her own.” He even says she is crazy. We know she is haunted by her memories of feeling abandoned by her mother. But she seems to have a very loving and healthy relationship with her daughter, Ceci. They look at an apartment in a run-down building on Roosevelt Island. At first Ceci says she does not want to live there, but after she disappears and Dahlia finds her on the roof holding a brand-new Hello Kitty backpack, she tells her mother she wants to stay. It’s near a good school and they don’t have much time, so she takes the apartment.
And of course immediately things start to go wrong. There is an oooky drippy leak in the corner of the ceiling, and the building manager and the off-the-books handyman give her the runaround about getting it fixed. Ceci’s nice new teacher (a sympathetic Camryn Manheim) tells Dahlia that Ceci is paying a lot of attention to an imaginary friend named Natasha that Dahlia doesn’t know anything about. Or is she real? Dahlia’s been taking pills and sleeping a lot. She discovered the apartment above hers was flooded with water the color of Coca-Cola. Or was it a drug-induced dream?
There are some good “boo” moments and director Walter Salles shows a flair for creepy images and an atmosphere of dread. Tim Roth and John C. Reilly add strong support as Dahlia’s lawyer and the building manager, two more people who are not entirely truthful. But like one of the images that flickers eerily in an elevator shaft, the scares are fleeting. It asks a lot of nicely disturbing questions but then tries to tie it up too quickly.
Parents should know that this is a creepy horror film with very intense scenes of peril and some violence. [Spoiler alert] There are some graphic images, including a dead child. Characters drink and use pharmaceutical drugs. There is brief strong language. Some viewers may be disturbed by the tense secens between an estranged couple or by the supernatural themes.
Families who see this film should talk about times they have felt creeped out and how they responded. Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Others, Bunny Lake is Missing, and Panic Room. They may also want to compare this to the original 2002 Japanese version.