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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

SECRETS IN THE WALLS -- DVD review by porfle

Lightweight chills may semi-scare you when you learn the SECRETS IN THE WALLS (2010), a Lifetime Channel ghost flick that takes us by-the-numbers into familiar fright territory.

Jeri Ryan stars as Rachel, a divorced mom raising daughters Lizzie and Molly in a cramped city apartment.  A new job takes her to one of those quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods where she ends up buying a large old house after getting the full B.S. treatment from a smarmy real estate agent.  At first, it seems the place is just perfect, until Rachel and the girls discover that it's haunted.

As is often the case, the scenes which gradually introduce the supernatural element into the characters' lives are the spookiest.  It's only later when the filmmakers have to start showing and explaining more that things get less convincing and more contrived.  A latter-half plot twist really pushes the whole thing to a new level of incredulity.

Till then, though, we're treated to a rather politely unsettling thriller that zings us with a few minor jump scares, plus some creepy situations revolving around a hidden room in the basement which hides a decades-old secret.  Claiming the basement as her bedroom, teenage daughter Lizzie (Kay Panabaker, "CSI", "No Ordinary Family") is the focus of the haunting, with her "night terror" ordeal providing the most effective chills in the entire story.  Later, when that thing I referred to happens, she proves a rather generic presence even when trying to be menacing.

All of the characters are pretty shallow, with the still-striking Jeri Ryan ("Star Trek: Voyager"'s Seven of Nine) serving as both the standard strong-single-mom and the derisively eye-rolling skeptic type who always irritates me by condescendingly poo-pooing any notion of the supernatural until it hits her right over the head.  Peyton List as Molly performs her current specialty, which is being somebody's cute little blonde daughter as in the recent BEREAVEMENT

Molly, it turns out, is psychic and senses what's going on in the house although naturally Mom chalks it up to an overactive imagination.  Thanks to writer's convenience, Rachel's new co-worker Belle (Oscar nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste, "Without a Trace", TAKERS) is also a "sensitive" and offers to help, giving us a psychic duo to double-team the invasive entity.  Molly, of course, sees it popping up all over the place in the early scenes, which gives Peyton List plenty of chances to act scared.

The script by William Penick and Chris Sey is almost a checklist of comfortably familiar elements, some of which I've already mentioned.  They include (1) the real estate agent pawning off a haunted house on an unsuspecting buyer, (2) the "strong" single mom who is also (3) an annoying skeptic, (4) the sensitive child who can see ghosts and (5) whose strange drawings concern her teacher, (6) the secret room that's been walled off, (7) the medicine cabinet mirror that reveals a ghost when opened, and (8) the "main character digs up a shocking old news story at the library" scene.  And when the real estate agent mentions that the house is the only one in the neighborhood with an open staircase, you pretty much know that sooner or later someone's going to fall over the railing.

The DVD from Vivendi is in widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  No subtitles, but closed-captioning is provided.  No extras.

Not great by any means but not bad enough to avoid, SECRETS IN THE WALLS is easy-to-take entertainment for viewers who want to shudder at some mildly spooky happenings without being taken too far out of their comfort zones.

Buy it at

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