Yasmine Bleeth finds that you truly can’t go home again as her idyllic hometown becomes a twisted blend of “Night of the Living Dead” and “Stepford Wives,” with absolutely no raison d’etre. It’s “Scream Soft” as psychological thrillers go, a movie with no edge, little believability and only the formulaic touches of contemporary thrillers.
Central to the story, and it certainly does take its time getting there, is Lake San Vicente, Calif., wherein lies “the vortex” that connects this world with its mirror image. Everyone in the bucolic town, apparently located in Santa Barbara County, is being sent to the vortex and exchanged with a human on the other side. Seemingly, it’s all being orchestrated by the mayor, Louise (Caroline Lagerfelt), who wants everyone tossed into the swirling waters (a cheesy effect) regardless of age, social standing or political power. Why? One can only guess.
Story starts with frazzled nurse Jackie Ivers (Bleeth) heading home to care for her abusive, alcoholic father who’s seemingly on his deathbed. She crashes into a pedestrian on a mountain road and out of nowhere appear two cops who have no use for Ivers’ nursing skills or her statement about the accident. They haul off the victim, now muttering “backwards” — a clue that rises near pic’s conclusion that’s far too obvious by the time two and two are put together.
She arrives at home — it has been 12 years since she last saw dad (Stanley Anderson) and five years since mom died — and the bitterness quickly swells. Ivers is quickly reacquainted with neighbors Herb (Robert Prosky) and Maggie (Marion Ross), the happily married pair that acted as surrogate parents throughout her childhood.
Then the formulas start kicking in: Everyone behaves differently (ill dad is healed and loving; benevolent Herb has turned cold and unaffectionate); the high school flame — now a doctor — is on hand to help with sick dad, solve the quandary and rekindle the love; and every authority figure is tailing our Miss Ivers and urging her to get out of town. Her response (what else?): “I’m not leaving until I find out what’s going on.”
Car and foot chases paired with inexplicable confrontations between the mirror folk and the real thing attempt to propel the final reel of this overlong saga as they head to a decisive battle at the lake. Ivers and former beau Jeff (Linden Ashby) constantly ask “what if” to signal their growing comprehension of the obvious. In a real credibility-bender, though, Ivers develops an astonishing ability to swim while wearing a turtleneck and a blazer, as the mayor, who for some unknown reason has run out of muscle men, is doing the dirty work of pushing citizens into the lake with a stick. Something, at some point, has to have some ring of truth. This has none.
Scripters Alan Brennert and J.D. Feigelson have given their actors a series of predictable-as-cardboard lines. In stepping out of her “Baywatch” bathing suit and into a world of terror, Bleeth retains considerable sex appeal, an ingredient that’s hardly called for here. Prosky gives a standout effort as Herb, though he makes his sharpest imprint in moments of silence rather than through dialogue. Ross is still Mrs. Cunningham. Haley Joel Osment as tyke Dylan does well in depicting his two sides.
David S. Jackson’s direction provides little point of view or even an understanding of how to build tension. Even when there’s a setup suggesting pending intensity, the payoff is nil. A shot a humor — the latenight picnic scene featuring the key unsuspecting duo in the abandoned yard (seen it before?) — falls equally flat. The lake itself poses only an incidental threat to the community, its terror largely unknown and rarely discussed. As terror goes, “The Lake” doesn’t show a ripple.