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In December 1975, George and Kathy Lutz along with their three children move into an elegant Long Island house. What they don't know is that the house was the site of a horrific mass murder a year before. They decide to keep the house and attempt to keep the horror in the past, but are now haunted by a murderous presence. This is until, George starts to behave weirdly and their daughter, Chelsea starts to see people. What follows is 28 days of sheer, unbridled terror for the family with demonic visions of the dead. Based on the true story of George and Kathy Lutz, The Amityville Horror remains one of the most horrifying haunted house stories ever told - because it actually happened.Written by
Decent enough for Amityville and haunted house film fans, otherwise approach with caution
A remake of the film by the same name from 1979, which was based on Jay Anson's book about a supposedly "true" haunting, Amityville Horror begins in familiar territory by showing us Ronald DeFeo, Jr. (Brendan Donaldson) murdering his family. A year later, newlyweds George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George), with three kids from her previous marriage in tow, buy the vacant house at a steal, although they hesitate a bit once they learn why it's so cheap. Strange occurrences begin not long after they settle in. George becomes increasingly impatient and hostile, daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) begins seeing the dead DeFeo girl, and so on. The film recounts their very brief but tumultuous stay at the home the Lutz's believed would be their dream home, but which turned into a nightmare.
After seeing the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), which had the same production team, principal scriptwriter and visual effects team, and which I loved--I gave it a 10--I was completely psyched for the Amityville Horror remake. After all, unlike my view of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), which I also gave a 10, I think the 1979 Amityville has more than its share of problems. I like the original in spite of that, but producer Michael Bay and crew had plenty of opportunity for improvement. Unfortunately, although some aspects of this remake are better in my view, it suffers from a host of new problems. Like the first, the assets are good enough to transcend the flaws so that it squeaks by with a very low "B", or an 8.
In my view, there are two primary problems, with at least one a bit ineffable. The more effable problem is that relative newcomer director Andrew Douglas (his previous effort was 2003's relatively little-known documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus) instructs cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister to shoot the film using way too much close framing. I repeatedly felt the urge to take a couple steps back so I could better discern the action, the settings, the staging of scenes, and so on.
The second problem lies more in the realm of writing and editing--the film just doesn't seem to flow right. The transition from scene to scene often feels almost arbitrary. Even though Reynolds does a great job in his transformation as George Lutz (and the acting is superb all around), there was a sense of buildup in the original that this remake is missing. Further indicative of the transition problems, although seemingly minor, is the fact that the date, or the day of the Lutz' stay at the home, is sometimes given as a title and sometimes not. It seems like they just forgot to add the day titles for half of the scenes. Overall the final cut gives an impression of being hastily put together.
And that's a shame, because there is a lot of potential here. The house itself is impressive, as it needs to be, and the overall style of the film is nicely atmospheric. I was also impressed with the production design by Jennifer Williams, which among other assets tends to have the period setting spot-on. For example, I was a huge Kiss, Alice Cooper, etc. fan during this era (and I'm still a fan). Williams has a number of Kiss and Cooper images in the film. She very carefully ensures that none are anachronistic.
Even though scriptwriter Scott Kosar disappointingly expressed a lack of enthusiasm for Anson's book and the original film, he reintroduces a number of elements from the book that work well, but which were left out of the original film. He also introduces new scenarios that in some cases are among the best material of the film--such as a breathtaking sequence on the roof of the home, and the extension of the mythology behind the "haunting". He also greatly improves on sequences such as the babysitter. But on the other hand, he inexplicably changes core elements of the story, like the kind of being that Jody is.
Anyone frustrated with the typical horror style of the later 1990s and early 2000s may find this remake troublesome. As one might expect with Michael Bay producing, Douglas is encouraged to use "MTV-styled" cinematography and editing. There are a number of extended techniques that have become somewhat clichéd in recent years. Douglas has characters do that fast headshaking movement ala Jacob's Ladder (1990). There are sections shot in a cinema vérité style. There are instances of quickly changing film stocks and processing methods, and so on. Even though I usually love all of that stuff, and I'm actually a fan of Bay's work, I have to agree that it's not exactly the most natural fit in this case. But for me, it's not something I would subtract points for either.
Maybe the most surprising fact is that this version of Amityville Horror is so close, structurally, to the original. There is nothing here that is a big surprise, and anyone who has seen the 1979 film a number of times will know exactly what's coming next, or close enough to it. Whether this is positive or not depends on your opinion of the original film, and just how highly you cherish originality for its own sake. Big Amityville fans and big haunted house film fans will probably enjoy the film enough. Everyone else should approach with more caution.
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