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Sunday, August 7, 2011

THE ATTIC -- movie review by porfle

If you have agoraphobia--the fear of open and public places, or, in some cases, simply going outside--then the worst place you could live would probably be a haunted house. 

That's exactly what happens in THE ATTIC (2008), when college student Emma Callan (Elisabeth Moss, "The West Wing"), her parents, and her older brother move into an old two-storey house in the sticks where another young girl went mad thirty years earlier.  In a flashback, we see her being haunted by what appears to be a creepier version of herself.  Sure enough, Emma starts seeing her own double wandering around the house, which usually results in one of those "gotcha!" moments--not exactly terrifying, but sometimes they do make you jump.

Following the apparition into the attic, Emma has a vision in which she's surrounded by witchcraft symbols, and in a daze she falls backward through the door.  The handsome paramedic who comes to her aid, Trevor (Jason Lewis, "Sex and the City"), also doubles as a local police detective and offers to help Emma find out what's going on while getting romantically involved with her as well.  Emma soon discovers that she had an identical twin named Beth who was born with a partially-deformed brain and only lived for a few days.  She begins to suspect that her parents, from whom she's grown increasingly distant as her emotional problems worsen, have somehow raised Beth from the dead in order to replace her. 

As the film progressed, I became more and more taken with Elisabeth Moss' performance as Emma.  She's interesting to watch as we wonder if her character is in fact seeing all of this or is actually becoming psychotic.  Her overbearing father is played by the always-strange John Savage (THE DEER HUNTER), and NIGHT OF THE COMET fans will recognize Catherine Mary Stewart as her mother.  Emma's mentally-challenged older brother Frankie is played by the scriptwriter, Tom Malloy, who does the usual "sweetly-retarded" schtick.  Also look for SIN CITY's diminutive Clark Middleton as Dr. Cofi, a cranky paranormal investigator.

Kindly psychologist Dr. Perry (Thomas Jay Ryan) tries to help Emma but she suspects him of being in league with her parents.  Everything they do seems suspicious to her, but we never know if they're really plotting against her or if it's all in her mind.  Meanwhile, the sympathetic Trevor seems too good to be true.

Mary Lambert, who directed the minor classic PET SEMETARY and the recent MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID, does a pretty decent job and comes up with a few nice touches here and there.  For the most part it's a somewhat better-than-average example of the haunted house genre that we seem to see a lot of these days.  Lambert manages to generate a fair amount of suspense and maybe a surprise or two that you won't see coming--without resorting to a lot of flashy effects or hokey-looking CGI, thank goodness--but much of this material suffers from being overly familiar while not making a whole lot of sense at times.

Before it's over, at least one family member is brutally murdered, and the bullet-riddled resolution is well-played if a bit confusing.  It doesn't happen in the attic, though--in fact, hardly anything happens up there.  But I guess out of all the other rooms in the house, THE ATTIC makes the best-sounding title.

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