Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts star in this psychological horror from Jim Sheridan, multiple Oscar nominated director of In The Name of The Father and My Left Foot, as a bereaved husband untangles the mystery of the death of his family while coming to realise he may be their killer. With the snowbound house surrounded by trees and shadow, could this be a spooky Christmas tale for the long nights?
Having quit his job at a publishing firm, Craig’s Will Atenton is to work from home with his loving family, Weisz as wife Libby and their two daughters, refurbishing the recently purchased house as he writes his novel. Believing the house is being watched, he investigates and finds that five years earlier a family was murdered in the house, the wife and two children, with the prime suspect, husband Peter Ward, having been held in a mental institution while he recovered from his injuries. Taking his enquiry to that facility, Will finds that Ward has recently been released, and during his recuperation built himself an intricate fantasy life under the name Will Atenton.
Unfortunately, despite a good premise and a strong central ensemble, the end result is overwrought and seems to be in possession of two left feet. It is reported that Sheridan did not have a good relationship with Morgan Creek Productions, and wished for his name to be taken off the final cut, echoing the experience of both William Peter Blatty on Exorcist III and Paul Schrader on the Exorcist prequel, which he spoke of once at the Edinburgh Film Festival as akin to “battered wife syndrome.” Similarly, both Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz have refused to perform any publicity duties for the film, so unhappy were they with the finished product.
The greatest frustration is that the problems with the film are so obvious they could easily have been rectified by a competent scriptwriter; the central question is, did Peter kill his wife and children or not. If not, who did? Since there is only one other prominent male character, Marton Csokas as Jack Patterson, rude, aggressive and confrontational ex-husband of Naomi Watt’s neighbourly Ann, rude, aggressive and confrontational, the audience are not required to overly tax themselves to make the connection. Equally, could Jack have hired a more incompetent hitman to kill Ann? Not only does he go to the wrong address, but when he arrived Libby was outside the house, talking on the phone in full sight and notably brunette, whereas his target is decidedly blonde. Could the producers not locate two female leads who resembled one another more closely, or persuade either to colour their hair, even wear a hairpiece?
In a structural oddity, the whole film is told ostensibly from the perspective of Peter, save for one incongruous early scene which flips to Jack’s office in the city to spell out to the audience that he is on the verge of bankruptcy and losing custody of his daughter. This ranks alongside the first Saw film, where a close up of the hospital patient telegraphs alarm bells to anyone versed in the language of film. Other inconsistencies are the final manifestation of Libby’s spirit, intervening to save Peter in the final scene, and the hideously earnest pop ballad that plays over the end titles.
The marketing campaign for the film is also flawed; the purpose of a trailer is to intrigue and entice an audience, not divulge the central plot twist. This recalls the trailer for The Sixth Sense, which featured the penultimate scene of the film, where Cole Sear reveals to his mother that “he sees dead people.” Perhaps in addition to popcorn and pick and mix, in future ushers could also hand out synopses of all films currently screeing, detailing the full plot and resolution and how they will come about to facilitate the viewer’s decision of whether a film is worth seeing?