Legend of Lucy Keyes, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/24/06 06:19:19

"Scary and family-friendly!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2006 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: The best ghost stories aren't really about ghosts; a ghost is a concept to ill-defined to really work as the focus of a story that aims to have a real plot and play fair with its audience. Stick a ghost into another kind of story, though, and you can not only add a little extra suspense, but misdirect the audience into thinking they're watching a different sort of movie.

The Legend of Lucy Keyes looks like a horror movie; it gives us a family of of city folk moving out to tiny Prniceton, Massachusetts where father Guy Cooley (Justin Theroux) will hopefully be helping to build a windmill farm, while mother Jeanne (Julie Delpy) is mostly looking for a new start after seeing their youngest daughter killed by a car in a city street. Daughters Molly (Kathleen Regan) and Lucy (Cassidy Hinkle) are in tow. There's some weird people in town, from the too-cheerful woman spearheading the windmill campaign (Brooke Adams) to the creepy woman basically saying that disturbing that land will disturb restless spirits (Jamie Donnelly), to the grumpy farmer next door who fertilizes his crops with awful-smelling clam bellies. Jeanne eventually learns about another Lucy who disappeared some two hundred and fifty years earlier and the girl's mother who is said to haunt the woods

Of course, any fan of Scooby Doo will tell you that the history of the phantom is never even nearly as important as what's going on at the haunted site now, and writer/director John Stimpson offers up a fine group of NIMBYs, crazies, greedies, and creepies to menace the Cooleys just as much as any ghost. Like most popular ghost stories, the story of Lucy and Martha Keyes is simple, horrific in its details, and devoid of details that drag it into the realm of alchemy and step-by-step ways to deal with them. It's based on an actual local legend (Stimpson is a Princeton native) with the details adapted from recently unearthed facts. Stimpson actually manages to build a good combination of present-day and pre-Revolutionary mysteries. It's the sort of mystery story I would have liked a lot when I was the age of the elementary-school kids in the movie, and Stimpson pulls off a tricky and seldom-attempted trick here, making a movie that is scary for the whole family.

It's a well-enough made movie, although there is what you might call a drop-off in the quality of the cast after Ms. Delpy. She's arguably a little higher-rent than this movie that will wind up on Lifetime and DVD with maybe a small, local theatrical release. She's the sort of person you'd want in the role, simultaneously looking her age and beautiful, with just enough of an accent to remind the audience that she's a stranger in these parts. She handles everything thrown at her just right. Theroux, of course, is mainly there to look good and pooh-pooh Jeanne's worries. The kids are fine, playing pretty standard kid types - Cassidy Hinkle is a curious, exploring seven-year-old as Lucy and Kathleen Regan is the several-years-older sister annoyed by her nosy sibling. The townspeople are a notch below Delpy and Theroux; they're given characters with one note and don't exactly add many others on their own. Mark Boone Junior is the best of them as slow, hostile neighbor Jonas Dodd.

For a movie made independently in rural Massachusetts, it's pretty well put-together. Stimpson's biggest mistake is probably making the stench of Dodd's farm a major focus - it's not something the audience can immediately experience from what's on screen. The characters must constantly say "whoo, that place stinks", which feels as redundant as "boy, is that sky blue" even if we still don't really sense it. The ghost stuff doesn't look bad at all, though - it's not as creatively designed an effect as we might see in a studio movie, but it doesn't look laughably cheap, either.

I'm not sure how much call there is for family-friendly ghost stories these days, hence this movie apparently heading for television. It's a little rough around the edges, but has a quality actress in the lead. Certainly worth a look if you'd like to share the fun of being scared in the dark with the kids.

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