The supernatural is the hobgoblin of the titular doubting Thomas in The Skeptic, though judging by writer-director Tennyson Bardwell’s hapless mood shifts in this tepid horror-comedy, it seems consistency of tone deserves even less credibility. When Bryan (Tim Daly) reacts to news of his aunt’s death by negotiating the sale of her Victorian manse, it’s clear that his rationalism has hardened into cynicism. Moving into the house after a spat with his wife (Andrea Roth), he’s besieged by creaking sounds, ominous flashes, and other stock spine-tinglers, none of which rattle his incredulity. “Did you know that 46% of people believe in ghosts?” he’s asked. “And 46% of people can’t find Europe on a map,” he shoots back. The strange events at the house soon become impossible to ignore, so a psychic professor (Bruce Altman) and a kooky medium (Zoe Saldana) are enlisted for a little ghost-busting, which inevitably turns inward toward the protagonist’s own clogged-up psyche. Bardwell’s haunted-manor riff may seem like a bizarre follow-up to his affable comedy Dorian Blues, but in reality they share an interest in smart-ass characters who must shatter the walls of snark they have erected around themselves in order to achieve a fuller sense of identity and engage with the outside world. While Dorian in the earlier film struggles to unlock his closeted sexuality, Bryan in Skeptic is spooked into an awareness of his spiritual emptiness. Unfortunately, Bardwell is an essentially gentle director working in a genre governed by anxiety, and he displays zero talent for staging even the hoariest shocks. Bardwell’s warm, often witty feeling for character deserts him as soon as doors start opening and closing by themselves: Bryan’s scenes with his friend (Tom Arnold) and priest (Robert Prosky) have comic and poignant energy, but for the most part the film awkwardly suggests Poltergeist as a 12-step self-help program.
- IFC Films
- 95 min
- Tennyson Bardwell
- Tennyson Bardwell
- Tim Daly, Tom Arnold, Zoe Saldana, Andrea Roth, Edward Herrmann, Robert Prosky, Bruce Altman
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