The paranormal thriller is enjoying such a revival that movies once
regarded as Friday night multiplex fodder have gained newfound respectability.
This blend of dark drama and ghost story creates less psychological
suspense than Sixth Sense, but provokes a far more impressive tally of
heart-jarring, if somewhat clichéd, jump-from-seat moments.
Although living in an apparently ideal marriage, Claire Spencer (Michelle
Pfeiffer) is emotionally scarred after surviving a horrendous car crash.
Renovating her deceased father-in-law's lakeside mansion in Vermont,
she begins to receive messages from beyond the grave. She assumes they
are from a murdered neighbour. In fact, they reveal sordid truths far
closer to home.
The palpable tension created by the ghostly visitations isn't purely for
shock then; they help piece together a terrible secret. This device works
effectively, especially for those viewers who haven't already guessed the
The film climaxes in a Hitchcockian adrenaline rush, complete with one
of those murderers who possesses more lives than a cat home.
Pfeiffer gives her role compassion and composed power, only occasionally
lapsing into wide-eyed trances when conveying possession by the spirit
of a missing student.
Harrison Ford as the husband, Professor Norman Spencer, only comes alive
when he becomes a homicidal maniac. He spends the rest of the time in
a growling sleepwalk. Close-ups leave you with a sense of shock: was
Indiana Jones really that long ago?
Towards the end, Director Zemeckis disables the breaks and subjects us to
a rollercoaster of thrills and hair-bleaching shocks. One stand-out is
where Norman is drowning his anaesthetized wife in the bath and she must
battle to unplug it with her weak toe, while completely submerged.
This is familiar territory. Whenever you see the bloodied villain face
down you know it's only a matter of time before his eyes flicker open.
You know he is in the back of the trailer. You know the getaway car will
crash into the lake at the precise point the dead girl's phantom is
Nevertheless, this post-Hitchcock thriller keeps tension on a tightrope
for long periods of time, only lapsing into slapstick towards the end.
Copyright © 2001 Mark Fleming