Genre:  Family thriller

Rating:  PG-13

Release Date:  September 12, 2003 (in selected theaters – see

Actors:  David Keith, Mel Harris, Leighton Meester, Douglas Smith, Daniel Farber, Jake Richardson, Andrea Morris, Edwin Hodge, Toni Elizabeth Schilling, Kristin Cowan, Margaret Travolta, Billy Moses and Frank Peretti.

Director:  Rafael Zielinski

Special Notes:  When Frank Peretti was young, he had an operation to remove a growth on his neck and part of his face that made him look different, subsequently setting him up for bullying, taunting and ridicule throughout his school experience. After the tragic Columbine school shootings, he felt it was time to write about this painful subject through a fiction book that would entail some of the pain and suffering kids go through every day when they are bullied at school. “This story sprang from my own experiences as a child, I was bullied unmercifully, and it continues to go on in every school in America today which is why I wrote this story,” said Peretti. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen what bullying can do and where it can lead, with school shootings and other horrible events.” Frank even plays one of his own characters, the eccentric Professor Algernon Wheeling, in a very eccentric way.  If the school principal, played by Margaret Travolta, looks familiar, that’s because she’s the sister of John Travolta. 

Plot:  When a small town high school has several star football players suddenly turn ill with hallucinations, call out the name of a boy who hung himself years earlier, then turn violently ill and wind up on life support systems, the authorities decide it's time to call in The Veritas Project. The Springfields, Nate (David Keith), Sarah (Mel Harris) and their teenage twins Elisha (Leighton Meester ) and Elijah (Douglas Smith), are a family of private investigators under the code name, The Veritas Project (veritas means truth), who specialize in going undercover to solve mysterious occurrences. As Elisha and Elijah infiltrate the different social groups, they quickly discover who’s popular and who’s not, as the bullying and tension among those social classes increase. Nate goes undercover as a school janitor and observes the coach allowing his athletes to pick on the strange looking Goth kids. He also discovers a straw with a crystal substance in a boy's gym bag, along with the drawing of a hangman that the team is convinced is making kids hallucinate and think they're seeing the ghost of Abel Frye. Sarah is in charge of research and calls upon their family friend and research lab specialist, Professor Algernon, to find out what the substance is and if it can hurt anyone. The Veritas investigation uncovers a pattern: the appearance of a hangman in the next victim's locker. At the same time, they discover Goth kids getting into witchcraft, thinking it will give them powers to fight off the bullies. Time is running out as the Springfields spring into action to find out who will be the next victim to fall prey to the Hangman’s Curse. 

Good:  Take a hip pair of teenagers who are trained with special spy skills and come loaded with lots of fun gadgets and pair them with two very cool and hip parents who are trained to back them up and help solve dilemmas and you have an exciting combination that is the premise for Frank Peretti’s latest novel turned movie. The story is aimed at the older adolescent/teen market in a high school setting, so the situations and events are obviously relatable to kids and teens in that age group. Producers Ralph Winter, Joe Goodman and Bobby Neutz have created a new category for their movie; they call it a "family thriller." Indeed the story has several intense and thrilling scenes, including kids hallucinating and seeing Abel Frye’s ghost, Elisha getting stuck in a ventilation shaft with scary creatures, several school fights, etc. There are also a few scary moments: costumed people gather in a witching chamber to cast spells on various students, a couple of kids hallucinate and there's another scary plot point. But I’ve been sworn to secrecy not to give it away (I promise you’ll jump and get creeped out). It's the family moments that take this story in a different direction than most thrillers: caring parents, family discussions, prayer at mealtimes, strong family values and working together. Because the story is aimed at older kids to a high school-age audience, it has an edgier look and feel to it. Peretti has woven a complicated “who-done-it” mystery into a story the younger generation can identify with and be passionate about. The message focuses on the effects our actions have on others and the consequences for everyone when cruelty and ridicule wound the spirits of tormentor and victim alike. The story deals with issues about bullying, prejudice, witchcraft, elitism, interracial dating and judging people just because they look different. The surprise twist at the end reveals just how far teenagers will go when repeatedly wounded by others and how devastating that unforgiveness can be. When the truth is revealed, I hope there will be many students who’ll vow to change the world around them, go back to their schools and treat kids differently in hopes of making a difference.