Ryan Reynolds……….George Lutz
Melissa George……….Kathy Lutz
Jesse James……….Billy Lutz
Jimmy Bennett……….Michael Lutz
Chloe Moretz……….Chelsea Lutz (as Chloe Grace Moretz)
Philip Baker Hall……….Father Callaway
From a screenplay by Scott Kosar. Running time: 1:40. MPAA rating: R for violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexuality and drug use.
Disclaimer: I have not seen the original Amityville Horror, nor have I read the book. While I’m at it, I haven’t been to the house, I haven’t met George Lutz, and I cannot confirm or deny that this movie is based on true events such as hauntings, ghostly possession, animal brutality, a desperate need for contact lens removal or the showcasing of the ability of a demonic presence to thoroughly irritate one’s vision. The film will be reviewed for how it works as a stand alone film. That is all.
Whether or not the events this film is based on are true, one thing is certain: the idea behind The Amityville Horror is captivating enough to still have people talking about it 30 years later. Not only is this story still intensely debated today, it also is one of the key inspirations behind the haunted house-like story. Not that Amityville started it all, as there are stories like it going back many, many years. But it is probably not a stretch to say that the story did capture the minds and imaginations of a generation and inspire some of the trademark elements known in these types of films. The remake is also just that, a remake, and it apparently deviates very far from both the original story and the original film (Far enough to make real life George Lutz sue). So again, the film will be looked at as its own entity, but it is also important not to forget the key words “based on a true story”.
So is it a successful film? Is it scary? Is it good entertainment? Well, yes and no, really.
For those not familiar with the tale, The Amityville Horror centers on the Lutz family: George, Kathy, Billy, Michael, and Chelsea (Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett and Chloe Moretz, respectively). They’re a typical family in pursuit of the American dream, and they think they are moving up in the world when they decide to buy a house in Amityville, New York. When the realtor tells them that a man went crazy in the house and murdered his entire family, George and Kathy vow to look past it and make their new home work for them and their children. “Houses don’t kill people, people kill people,” George tells his wife. And so the happy family moves in and life really looks like it’s on the upswing.
It doesn’t take long for very odd things to start happening in the house – doesn’t even take a day, actually. George starts hearing voices. Both George and youngest son Michael see things (seperate events) that the word disturbing just does not do justice. By their 15th day in the house, Kathy begins to realize things are very off, and even more strange events occur. By the 28th day, all hell seems to be on the verge of breaking lose, as Kathy and her children realize the house is evil. But will the family make it out alive, or be consumed by the evil that controls the house?
Most of the acting is solid. Melissa George does a nice job in the role of the paranoid, scared mother and wife. She handles her role well, expressing all the right emotions as the film progressed to its ending. The child actors were all cast well in their roles and did a fine job with what they were given.
Ryan Reynolds (a.k.a. Van Wilder) is a mixed bag. He really shows he has the potential to get out of the comedy roles he’s done in the past, as some parts of his performance were very strong and some of his delivery was really great. But about an equal half of his acting was laughable. When he is making jokes he’s a riot, but when he’s a serious, angry, border-line psycho making threats or shouting insults he is, well, a riot. He had most of the theater laughing, not just chuckling nervously, but laughing outloud with a nice chunk of his performance. It is doubtful this was the intent, and shows Reynolds has a little bit further to go before he can really cement himself as an actor with the ability to be a wide range of roles.
The story is also a mixed bag. The film opens, as most horror films do, in a pretty good way. The murders of the house are excellently portrayed, and instantly engross the viewer in the film. The introduction and background of the Lutz family and their arrivial and first dealings with the house are all perfectly handled events. It does not take long, however, for the film to begin to derail. The words “Day 1” appear on the screen, some pretty terrifying events of the day occur and then the movie flashes to “Day 15”. Nothing in between at all is covered. Is the audience to believe that, in this house apparently controlled by the demons of hell, nothing of substance or interest happened for two weeks?
And they don’t go out of their way to paint an illusion over this fact either. Something happens on day one and George asks his stepson about it fifteen days later. Unreal. Some more things happen and then it is “Day 28”. The film’s characters were lacking a lot in the development department, to the point where the viewer really doesn’t even care enough to learn their names. This just seems like an issue that could have been easily fixed had the film not jumped forward so much. Not to mention a lot of things seem to happen on three days. In a sense of consistency, this film is all over the place.
Then there are the logic holes. Some spoilers are to follow, so if you want to go into the film “totally blind”, then skip over the next paragraph or two. Okay? Ready?………………..Okay.
Now, this is a film based on a haunted house, right? And it is based on a true story, as they say, so no real shots can be taken for the film’s originality (Slightly more on this in a bit). So on that note, if this film is indeed based on true events, then the Lutz’s ARE THE DUMBEST FUCKING FAMILY ON THIS PLANET. Apologies for the outburst, but bear with it. On day one, day ONE in this house, the youngest son has the piss scared out of him (almost literally) in easily the creepiest scary movie bathroom scene in a long time. The daughter is having a casual conversation with a ghost sitting across from her while talking to her mother, and Mr. Lutz? Well, he gets to make love to his wife and witness the ghost of a dead child hanging near his bed. As if THAT isn’t enough, he finds the padlock he put on his boathouse unlocked, and a red balloon his daughter was holding earlier in the day floating out of it at three in the morning. What family would STAY IN A HOUSE LIKE THIS? There is nothing subtle here, nothing raising a remote question like “Gee, you think we have a problem living here?” No, there is freaky, OBVIOUS stuff going on in this house, let me stress this, the first day they move in. If this happened in real life, the family deserved everything they got, and if it did not, then the screenwriter deserves something worse.
Okay then. Moving on, the direction is better than most of the other horror films to come out in recent memory, but that does not say much, really. It still has the “MTV-style” quick cuts and edits, and some of the scares are incredibly cheap and based on loud noises to get a jolt. There are also long, drawn-out, downright boring segments of film between the scares. But, and this also needs to be emphasized, this film can also be genuinely creepy at times.
Looking at it strictly for atmosphere (looking past the faults), the film is pretty intense for a decent way through. Some of the scares are pretty legit too, where tension has been raised to a level where it is actually creepy. One scene, involving the baby-sitter, is downright disturbing, and had many squirming in their seats. How refreshing for a horror fan. Director Andrew Douglas would get some serious points for this and for maintaining the film’s content to get an R rating, if the film didn’t lose this feeling halfway through. It actually seemed that the more the plot was revealed, and the more the characters got a grasp of the true horror they were involved in, the film grew less tense and scary. The atmosphere is all but gone by the time the cliched, overplayed climax is reached, where Kathy discovers the history of her home. And, true story or not, the ending is damn cliche, and the plot devices used to get there are so over-used, they have lost any and all ability to be effective. It just lacks imagination and seems like a cop out.