Dakota Fanning's wise-beyond-her-years routine is given a creepy-kid variation with the help of Christina Ricci's brand of hair dye and a tragedy that sends her character headlong into psychosis. After witnessing the bloody aftermath of her mother's suicide, Emily becomes almost catatonically morose. Her psychologist father, David (Robert De Niro), who's trying to cope with his own loss while attempting to reconnect with his daughter, moves the two of them into a secluded home in the woods to get away from troubling memories. Almost immediately upon their arrival in the rural town, strange neighbors show up to exude "Rosemary's Baby" vibes and Emily turns into the daughter the Bad Seed and Damien might have spawned, saying and doing horrible things that she blames on her imaginary friend Charlie.
But who are we supposed to be afraid for? None of the secondary characters are developed enough to make us care whether or not they become Charlie fodder. That leaves only David and Emily themselves, and both seem so irrevocably messed up that no outcome could undo what's been done. Emily becomes so obnoxiously hateful that no one's too concerned for her immortal soul. Switching between the normal and the disturbed personas (a la the Regan/Satan pas de deux in "The Exorcist"), showing some fear on the part of the real Emily, would have helped forge some sympathy. But that and any other fleeting glimpse of goodwill would have been eviscerated anyway by the utterly trite and completely illogical M. Night Shyamalan-brand twist ending that Shyamalan himself hasn't gotten right since "Sixth Sense," much less any of his myriad imitators. Adding insult to injury, the villain then wanders around warbling "Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird" just to add the requisite eerie atonal children's song to the film's laundry list of cliches, in case the yowling cat jumping out of the closet, the close-up on the block of kitchen knives, the shrieking tea kettle, the defaced dolls' heads and the "look-what-you-made-me-do" blood-scrawled messages weren't enough to secure every Razzie in every category. Starring Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen and Elisabeth Shue. Directed by John Polson. Written by Ari Schlossberg. Produced by Barry Josephson. A Fox release. Thriller. Rated R for frightening sequences and violence. Running time: 100 min