One of the worst things a horror movie can do is reveal that the source of all its scares was simply misunderstood and benign. Imagine watching a creepy haunted house flick for two hours, only to discover that it was Casper the Friendly Ghost behind all the strange noises. Or consider the film Stigmata: for all its supposed terror of demonic possession and violent manifestations, we ultimately learn the spirit of a holy priest was behind everything--and what's worse, he was trying to deliver a message of love! Such is the disappointment behind Dragonfly, a movie that manages a sinister and unsettling tone, only to trash it all in the final act.
Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) is an average guy whose life is turned upside down when his wife Emily is killed in a tragic accident. Soon after the cataclysmic event, Joe sees signs of her everywhere, and is quickly convinced that she is trying to contact him from beyond the grave. The manifestations grow in intensity while always maintaining their evasively cryptic nature, falling just short of Emily descending from heaven in a flaming chariot and asking the age old question, "Wassuuuuup?"
Needless to say, his closest friends are skeptical. Seeing Joe more as a heartbroken husband than a conduit for the afterlife, they suggest he take time off, think about things rationally, and deal with the death of his wife. But their scripted suggestions fall on deaf ears, and Joe embarks on a mission to figure out what Emily wants and what he can do for her.
Surprisingly, Costner isn't the one who makes the biggest ass out of himself in this misguided supernatural thriller. In fact, as the earnest and faithful Joe Darrow, he's playing the type of guy he plays best: the average American most moviegoers can sympathize with. No bogus accents, no stuffy period pieces, and no delusions of grandeur.
But even as Costner works on being absolutely normal, his co-stars battle for title of Most Unlikable Character. In the lead are Ron Rifkin and Kathy Bates, both redundantly playing the role of the best friend who tells the main character that ghosts don't exist. One such mediocre sidekick is always to be expected in a movie like this, but two is outright overkill. And the only difference between them is the fact that Bates' character is an outspoken lesbian (complete with a "former love-uh"). Unfortunately, this unnecessary attempt to distinguish her role comes across like an insulting shot at political correctness. Meanwhile, there's little kids who "see dead people," a primitive tribe that aids Joe on his quest for understanding, and Linda Hunt lecturing metaphysics.
Dragonfly certainly boasts moments that are genuinely unnerving; but ultimately, it's trying too hard. Things are creepy merely for the sake of being creepy, adding atmosphere but no substance. Besides, what's really so scary about a loved one reaching out with hope and affection from the great beyond? If anything, it's a romanticized notion that runs counter to horror. Now maybe if Emily's ghost was trying to get even with Joe for knocking up the babysitter, he'd have something to fear. But as it stands, this movie is Ghost masquerading as Poltergeist, and anyone expecting a chilling tale will be sorely disappointed.
Rating: 4 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)