Trying something very different from the antic gay coming-of-age humor of his well-received debut feature, 2004’s “Dorian Blues,” writer-director Tennyson Bardwell delivers an old-fashioned ghost story in “The Skeptic.” Starring Tim Daly as a titular figure gradually forced to acknowledge supernatural phenomena, this haunted-house tale is probably too low on f/x, gore and victims to draw many genre fans to IFC Films’ limited theatrical launch on May 21; nor is it upscale enough to appeal to the arthouse crowd. But the effectively creepy, modestly scaled piece will translate just fine to ancillary formats.
As sole surviving relative, lawyer Bryan (Daly) has inherited an imposing old three-story home from an aunt he never much liked. Planning to sell, he uses the house — which is unoccupied and vulnerable to break-ins — as an excuse to temporarily separate from his wife (Andrea Roth), who’s tired of his flippancy and emotional distance. But the rambling abode has its own problems, manifesting in poltergeist-y disturbances and spectral visions. Well-buried, unpleasant family truths seem to be forcing themselves on Bryan, leading to climactic confrontation with a long-dead relative who hasn’t been resting in peace.
Fadeout, which tries to have it both ways — bringing both vengeance and forgiveness from beyond the grave — feels a little underwhelming. Bardwell’s screenplay doesn’t bring any novel ideas to well-worn, sometimes near-corny storytelling terrain. But the atmospherics (which generally eschew cheap “gotcha!” scares) and perfs are canny enough to make this a solid hour-and-a-half of medium-grade goosebumps.
Daly deftly limns his character’s descent from obstinate denial to reawakened childhood panic. Edward Herrmann and the late Robert Prosky are good as a shrink and a minister, respectively, who know more about these goings-on than they’ll admit. Bruce Altman plays a psychic researcher, Zoe Saldana is his volatile star subject, and Tom Arnold essays the protag’s best friend/biz partner/comic sidekick.
Tech and design aspects seem decent, though the 35mm-shot pic’s Cinequest projection on DVD rendered the visual package a bit soft.