(director/writer: Neil Jordan; screenwriters: Bruce Robinson/based on the novel “Doll’s Eyes” by Bari Wood; cinematographer: Darius Khondji; editor: Tony Lawson; cast: Annette Bening (Claire Cooper), Aidan Quinn (Paul Cooper), Robert Downey Jr. (Vivian Thompson), Paul Guilfoyle (Detective Jack Kay), Katie Sagona (Rebecca Cooper), Stephen Rea (Dr. Silverman); Runtime: 98; Dreamworks; 1999)

“The film’s intellectual theme, if I can loosely use the word intellectual, is a reversal of the “Snow White” theme. “

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Neil Jordan, the director of The Company of Wolves/The Crying Game/Interview With the Vampire/ Butcher Boy, imbues his latest film with an unreal intensity. The nightmarish scenes moved the film into the realm of make believe Hollywood hokum. The Irish-born director, Jordan, whose accomplishments include a few first-class films among some disappointments, only proves that the horror thriller is probably not what he is best suited for. His heavy-handed direction spoiled a fine cast from doing what it is capable of.

In a small Massachusetts town, a place near where a reservoir covers the remains of “a drowned ghost town,” lives the Cooper family: Claire (Annette Bening), who is a fairy-tale book illustrator; her husband Paul (Aidan), who flies 747 passenger planes; their young daughter Rebecca (Katie), who is just a plain sweetheart; and, their dog Dobie, who looks like a mutt but is a Doberman pincher.

The police in the opening scene are searching the reservoir for the corpse of a little girl who has been abducted by a serial killer. Meanwhile, Claire sits in an idyllic wood setting agitatedly drawing in her sketchbook because she sees something that others can’t see: something visionary. It’s a recurring bad dream she is having of late, of a child led by the hand through an orchard. She is so sure of what she sees, that she tells her daughter the police won’t find anything in the reservoir.

Claire is tormented by the serial killer who has gotten into her head and is feeding her his bad thoughts. Naturally nobody takes Claire seriously, not her husband (who tries to) or the police (who try not to), but when her daughter is abducted — in the best scene of the movie, at the elementary-school staging of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” performed by night in a forest — we see Claire go bonkers. It was the only scene in the movie that was able to convey how believable her panic attacks really are.

Claire is committed to a mental institution and believe it or not, she’s in the same cell as the killer who got into her head. He escaped by bludgeoning a nurse to death and now lives with a girl he abducted in a strange lair. Her shrink, Dr. Silverman (Rea), also doesn’t believe her. He thinks she’s delusional. I think he’s delusional if he thinks he got a real part. His role is so insignificant, even more so than Aidan Quinn’s.

Claire escapes from the loony bin, as she attaches her thoughts to the killer and finds her way to him.

The killer appears in the last fifteen or so minutes and he is none other than the troubled actor, plagued recently by doing jail time for his real-life drug problems, Robert Downey Jr.. He’s a victim of child abuse turned pervert and is possibly gay. In the flashback, he commits a few murders. Downey Jr. basically brought a sense of the ridiculous to this role, allowing the film to sink lower than the ordinary Hollywood horror film usually does.

The film’s intellectual theme, if I can loosely use the word intellectual, is a reversal of the “Snow White” theme. This time the story is not narrated from the child’s point of view, but from the mother’s. It’s an adult Freudian fairy tale, I suppose, where the color red sets off horrible visions and apples become omens for terrible things to come. The film is a mess and the acting is shrill. It is a film that can’t be saved by good looking photography, or diffuse symbolism, or even by great special effects, but must be viewed as wallowing in its own unpleasant reservoir of putrid storytelling.