starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett
screenplay by Scott Kosar, based on the novel by Jay Anson and the screenplay by Sandy Stern
directed by Andrew Douglas
by Walter Chaw When filmmakers leave nothing to the imagination, you're left with the product of their imaginations, which almost without exception is an arid thing born of equal parts imitation and an eye to the bottom line. Innovation is frowned upon when it comes to big-budget horror (terms that mix together uneasily at best), leaving whatever was subversive about the premise to get blunted by this need to rake in a lot of money from a timid public looking for a rollercoaster instead of sociology. So it is with the latest instalment in the worst horror franchise in history, a remake of The Amityville Horror directed by commercial hack Andrew Douglas (who at least seems self-aware in interviews) that professes to be "truer" to the "true"* source material--meaning, essentially, that no one is going to die and that it's going to be poorly written. (I snuck a peak at the 1979 film when I was in the care of a horrible babysitter, only to experience one of my earliest instances of realizing that something sucked.) It tacks on some crap about the house in question being built on the site of an old Indian mental hospital/Abu Ghraib, replacing the innocuous little red room of the original film with a chamber of flash-edited horrors à la Thir13en Ghosts. In so doing, it introduces a little flaccid White Man's Guilt subtext into this Wonder Bread wonderland that it studiously refuses to examine.
See, The Amityville Horror is now a modern Drums Along the Mohawk, with a pack of angry Indian ghosts resisting colonization of their nice, rambling Long Island colonial standing in for a pack of angry Indians resisting colonization, period. Or that would be the case if the picture weren't fashionably intoxicated with the Japanese conceit of the scary little girl ghost, this time named Jodie (Isabel Conner) and commissioned to befriend moppet Chelsea (Chloe Grace Moretz), whom no one will believe until it's almost too late. I'm embarrassed to even regurgitate this shit. George (Ryan Reynolds) and his hot wife Kathy (Melissa George, still coasting, as far as I'm concerned, on her cameo in Dark City) buy a house beyond their means with Kathy's three kids from a previous marriage: Chelsea, Billy (Jesse James, excellent), and little Michael (Jimmy Bennett, already emotionally brutalized once this year in another home-invasion picture, Hostage). Soon, like in The Shining, George starts acting loopy whilst swinging an axe around, and soon, like in Poltergeist, the little blond girl starts talking about the bad man.
If you're serious about horror films, you'll be bored out of your mind, and if you're the kind of idiot who likes this sort of thing, you're not reading this, anyway. What The Amityville Horror misunderstands is that if you invest just one character with a personality, then getting scalded by a teapot becomes an unbearable possibility--but if you fail to create a single compelling character, then anything you do to them elicits disinterest or mirth. You root for the house here, essentially. Worse, the house turns out to be a pussy; I'm not sure exactly why a heating grate and a swarm of houseflies are supposed to be scary, but the jackholes in composer Steve Jablonsky's orchestra were sure agitated. Douglas et al find that they can't make a huge haunted house scary at all, reducing the set to a kitchen, a bathroom, a basement, and a bedroom while having the Lutzes pay frequent visits to the boathouse and the roof. A cheap dream sequence offers the ending we'd really like to see before giving us the ending your grandmother would approve of, leaving the drama, such as it is, for the behind-the-scenes struggle of real-life, foaming-at-the-mouth George Lutz to ride the crest of his stupid story, true or not, into a third decade. An anniversary horror film overreliant on jump scares and deafening soundtrack stings, The Amityville Horror is shake-and-bake entertainment based more on elements from Amityville II: The Possession than from the first film--which makes it a little bit bloodier (though it could've been PG-13 with almost no tweaking) and which is to say that you have your choice of which pile of manure to blame. Originally published: April 15, 2005.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
A movie noteworthy, if at all, for being the screen debut of Chloe Moretz, The Amityville Horror comes to Blu-ray from MGM (via Fox) in a status quo 2.35:1, 1080p transfer. The innately sharp image is lacquered with grain, and though it's not particularly obstructive, it looks to have been artificially pumped up--another gritty affectation in a film that's all ersatz squalor. Blacks are deep but not opaque, while whites stop just shy of burning a hole in the screen; it looks exactly like the filmmakers want it to, I suspect, down to the pukey colour palette, which is at least vibrant and well-defined. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track similarly suggests an accurate rendering of banal artistic choices. This is a layered mix, don't get me wrong--unfortunately, the first layer's an avalanche of grating music cues and shock effects, burying some very realistic, spatially-credible sound design. Still: not the disc's fault. The Amityville Horror's theatrical trailer is the only extra on this stripped-down release, although the combo packaging contains the film's 2005 Widescreen Special Edition DVD, whose supplementary material includes deleted scenes, featurettes, and--never a good sign--a commentary by the producers. Originally published: January 11, 2011.