The Amityville Horror

© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloe Moretz, Rachael Nichols, Philip Baker Hall, Isabel Conner, Brendan Donaldson
Director: Andrew Douglas
Writers: Sandor Stern, Scott Kosar (based on novel by Jay Anson)
Distributor: MGM
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence/gore, disturbing images, brief sexuality, drug use
Running Time: 113 minutes

Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 7 out of 10

My question going into the theater: Why, for cry’in out loud, do we need another THE AMITYVILLE HORROR? The original was already a cheesy classic. Not to mention the rip-offs and sequels. In order for me to judge this film on its own merits, I’d have to forget about the other films and watch this with an unbiased eye. A difficult task to do (I think I’m gonna ask for a raise…)

The film opens briskly, recapping the horrific murders at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville. On a stormy night in 1974, Ronald DeFeo (Donaldson) murdered his entire family in cold blood. He claimed that a “voice” told him to do it. One year later, George (Reynolds) and Kathy (George) Lutz finds the Ocean Avenue property a dream house for their family of five, with Kathy’s three children from her previous marriage: defiant Billy (James), timid Michael (Bennett) and cherubic Chelsea (Moretz). Even the history behind the house cannot dissuade George and Kathy from saying yes to the deal of a lifetime.

Soon after they move in, however, strange things start to happen. Chelsea makes friends with an invisible playmate called Jodie. A babysitter gets a serious fright. Worst of all, George starts to feel ill and hear strange voices in the basement. George becomes increasingly hostile and moody, at least until he leaves the house. Eventually, they realize the house is haunted with an evil presence, and they must try their best to escape and survive as a family.

Reynolds (VAN WILDER) gives a surprisingly affecting dramatic performance here. He’s been mostly known for his goofball comedies, but here, he shows a nice depth of darkness, and his transformation from the loving husband/father to Mr. Psycho is very convincing. George (MULHOLLAND DRIVE) has certain naïve sweetness about her, but she seems too young and inexperienced to be a mother of three (and her eldest is 12 years old!) She looks more like a sister than a mother most of the time.

James (BUTTERFLY EFFECT) is rebellious yet scared as the eldest son, Billy. Bennett (DADDY DAYCARE) is cute as the middle sibling Michael. Moretz (HEART OF THE BEHOLDER) is impressive as the innocent Chelsea; her rooftop scene is especially memorable. Nichols (DUMB AND DUMBERER) also has a memorable scene as the babysitter Lisa, who tries to scare the kids but ends up being scared to half-death. Hall’s (IN GOOD COMPANY) masterful performance as Fr. Callaway also adds weight and opens up the otherwise claustrophobic story. Newcomer Conner is creepy as doomed Jodie DeFeo.

As a stand-alone movie, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is a good production. Granted, almost 30 years have passed (the original was made in 1979) and we are not so easily scared anymore. So director Douglas has to rely on camera and editing tricks to scare us: strange angles, moody shots of rain and wind, sound effects, fast cutting to grotesque images. These jolting moments and vivid imageries give us a strange adrenaline rush, even though we expect them. Perhaps that’s exactly why the film succeeds in that regard -- we expect these scare tactics and we get them.

However, the story is weak in comparison. First, there’s the controversy surrounding Anson’s original story. 30 years ago, the book was marketed as non-fiction and the Lutzes’ accounts were touted as a real story. 30 years later, we now know they’re simply hoaxes. Part of why THE AMITYVILLE HORROR worked before was the fact that we believed the story was real. And that fact touched us at a visceral level -- this really happened, and it could happen to us. And now, the fact that it is just fiction doesn’t necessarily make it a bad story; we’re just less tolerant of the discrepancies and lack of logic, not to mention the dishonesty. We’re more prone to ask questions. For example, why can Chelsea see Jodie but not the other ghosts or evil spirits? And if Jodie is a good ghost, why does she tell Chelsea to jump off the roof? When Billy is threatened by George during the wood chopping scene, Billy’s reaction is out of character (good thing he redeems himself later). Some of these plot holes are minor, but some become so frustrating that they distract us from the story.

To be fair, there are plenty to like about this film. The tension between the various family members is probably the most frightening aspect of the story, and they’re well integrated and acted in the film. Some of the most powerful scenes exemplify the tension: the rooftop scene with Chelsea, the babysitter scene, the South-of-Music-esque escape at the end, the quiet embraces between George and Kathy. To me, those scenes speak volume of the disintegration of our families, which is the true horror of this ghastly tale.

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