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The Skeptic

theatrical poster
Directed by Tennyson Bardwell
Produced by Tennyson Bardwell
Isen Robbins
Aimee Schoof
Mary-Beth Taylor
Written by Tennyson Bardwell
Starring Tim Daly
Zoe Saldana
Tom Arnold
Music by Brett Rosenberg
Cinematography Claudio Rocha
Editing by Ann Marie Lizzi
Distributed by IFC Films
Release date(s) May 1, 2009
Running time 89 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Gross revenue $6,671 (domestic)

The Skeptic is a 2009 American horror film written and directed by Tennyson Bardwell. Starring Tim Daly, Zoe Saldana, and Tom Arnold, and featuring Robert Prosky and Edward Hermann, it depicts the story of an attorney who inherits a seemingly haunted house, though he does not believe in the supernatural.

Written in the 1980s, the film was shot in upstate New York from late 2005 through 2006. Completed in 2008, it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival before being purchased by IFC Films for airing on their video on demand channel as well as a limited theatrical release. The film received poor reviews and was criticised for its lack of suspense, poor dialog, and for being reminiscent of 1970s television horror films.



Lawyer Bryan Becket (Tim Daly) moves into his late aunt's reputedly haunted Victorian mansion after her passing. Becket does not believe in supernatural events, and continually ignores signs that the home really is haunted, while trying to explore the connection he feels to the house. His partner in the firm, Sully (Tom Arnold), does believe in the supernatural, and tries to warn Becket that something is wrong about the house. As the haunting turns more personal, Beckett is unable to ignore it any longer and begins doubting his own sanity. He seeks help from a scientist (Bruce Altman), a psychiatrist (Edward Herrmann), and a priest (Robert Prosky), unaware that they all know more about him and the house than they are telling him. Eventually, he turns to a psychic named Cassie (Zoe Saldana), who quickly determines there is a "very bad secret" in the house. Together, they try to learn what this secret is, while dealing with repressed memories from Becket's childhood.



Writer and director Tennyson Bardwell wrote the first draft of the script in the 1980s.[1] His wife, Mary-Beth Taylor, was one of the film producers, along with Bardwell himself, Isen Robbins, and Aimee Schoof.[2][3]

Shooting begin in 2005, with eight weeks spent filming in various locations around the Saratoga Springs, New York area – where Bardwell lives in Ballston Spa – including the city Court House, the Olde Bryan Inn, the Union Gables Bed and Breakfast as well as Union College in nearby Schenectady,[2][4][5] The Batcheller Mansion Inn was used for the three-story Victorian mansion where much of the film takes place. The production paid for exclusive use of the mansion for five weeks during its off-season.[2] Filming was completed in 2006, and post-production finished in 2008.[2]

In creating the film, in a markedly different genre from his first work, the 2004 comedy Dorian Blues, Bardwell aimed to create a film that would be "a Rorschach test for people's beliefs," in which viewers would have different ideas of what happened. Intended to concentrate on the psychological rather than gore, the film has no "blood and guts" and instead requires viewers to be skeptical and open to the different possible interpretations of the ending.[1][2] The Skeptic marks Bardwell's first time working with Hollywood actors, having used only locals and new theater school graduates in his first film.[1]


The Skeptic was presented at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, after which the Independent Film Channel purchased it for distribution. IFC first released it to their video on demand channel on April 29, 2009.[1][6] The film premiered theatrically in Saratoga Springs and at the IFC Center in New York City[7][8] on May 1, 2009, in Albany, New York on May 8, 2009, and in Beverly Hills on May 15, 2009.[1]


In its opening weekend in a single theater, The Skeptic earned $1,553.[9] During its three week run, it earned a total of $6,671 in box office receipts.[10]

Critics generally negative reviews.[11] At the film aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, it has given a score of 8% based on 12 critic's reviews, who gave it an average score of 3.2 out of 10.[12] At Metacritic, it has a score of 31 out of 100 based on four critical reviews.[11] In Variety, Dennis Harvey considered the film to be an "effectively creepy, modestly scaled piece" and praised its "atmospherics " while also considering the plot unoriginal and, at times, corny.[13] Fernado Croce of Slant Magazine called it a "tepid horror-comedy", feeling Bardwell was a "gentle director" ill-suited for attempting to create a feeling of shock and horror, resulting in a work that "awkwardly suggests Poltergeist as a 12-step self-help program."[14] Ed Gonzalez of The Village Voice called it a "TV grade suspenser" that "channels the spirit of Murder, She Wrote and 3-2-1 Contact's Bloodhound Gang" and as vigorous as the typical Scarecrow and Mrs. King episode. He found the script to be overwritten and a "mechanical compendium of anti-skepticism clichés".[8] Frank Lovece of The Hollywood Reporter agreed, referring to it as a "rare old-fashioned supernatural suspenser" that lacked suspense, and felt it was reminiscent of unmemorable 1970s made-for-television family friendly horror films. He both praised and criticized Bardwell's writing and direction as being "carefully though without inspiration", and the dialog as "bald and blatant" lacking in subtext and subtlety.[15]

In The New York Times, Stephen Holden called the film a "a cut-and-dried Freudian melodrama that gives repressed memory a supernatural dimension" and preferred a regular teen horror flick to Bardwell's attempt at making a "haunted house movie for grownups".[7] Steve Ramos, Boxoffice Magazine, felt the film was "polished but dull" and that its lack of special effects would result in it being unable to attract mainstream audiences. He also felt Daly overacted in the role and "lack[ed] the emotional depth to support an entire movie, ghost story or otherwise." He praised cinematographer Claudio Rocha for his work in creating a believable haunted house and the film's overall high production values, wishing it had been matched by quality storytelling.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Braden, Sam (2009-05-07). "'Skeptic,' filmed in Saratoga Springs, opens on silver screen". Times Union. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Buell, Bill (2009-05-06). "Tennyson Bardwell says living upstate makes it easier to film movies". Daily Gazette. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  3. ^ "The Skeptic". IFC Films. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  4. ^ Gallagher, Vince (2009-05-08). "'The Skeptic' Comes Back Home"". Capitol News 9. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  5. ^ Donohue, Emily (2009-05-06). "Film shot locally to hit big screen". The Saratogian. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  6. ^ Gingold, Michael (2009-04-23). "Believe it: IFC's The Skeptic release details". Fangoria. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  7. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (2009-05-01). "Movie Review - The Skeptic (2008)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  8. ^ a b Gonzalez, Ed (2009-04-28). "The Skeptic Remains a Slave to the TV Lexicon". The Voice. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  9. ^ "The Skeptic (2009): Weekend Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  10. ^ "The Skeptic (2009)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  11. ^ a b "Skeptic, The". Metacritic. Retrieved December 21, 2009. 
  12. ^ "The Skeptic". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 21, 2009. 
  13. ^ Harvey, Dennis (2009-03-11). "The Skeptic". Variety. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  14. ^ Croce, Fernado (2009-04-27). "The Skeptic". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  15. ^ Lovece, Frank (2009-04-30). "Film Review: The Skeptic". Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  16. ^ Ramos, Steve (2009-05-01). "The Skeptic". Boxoffice Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 

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