Nathalie Emmanuel Starring in John Woo’s Remake of ‘The Killer’ for Peacock
Twice a month Joe Lipsett will dissect a new Amityville Horror film to explore how the “franchise” has evolved in increasingly ludicrous directions. This is “The Amityville IP.”
We’re into the thick of it now, aren’t we? Ten entries into the so-called Amityville franchise and it’s all cheap IP cash-grabs from here on out.
I’m hopeful that some of these films will lean into the utter ridiculousness that has been a hallmark of the best entries thus far, particularly given the inevitable decline in budget. Let’s not kid ourselves: many of the films from here on out are going to be dodgy, but that’s half the fun, right?
What’s exciting about this Amityville IP editorial series is examining how each film puts its own unique stamp on the same general premise. For The Amityville Haunting, the first new film in six years, that unique stamp is found footage.
It’s a bit surprising that it’s taken so long for an enterprising filmmaker to lean into the low budget practicalities of FF. And while The Amityville Haunting doesn’t break new ground with how it uses security cameras, night vision or direct address-style confessionals, it’s arguably the most successful aspect of this entry.
Alas, that’s something of a low bar to clear.
Writer and director Geoff Meed is content to keep the narrative pretty simple. After a cold open wherein four horny teenagers are mutilated in the notorious Long Island home, the cash-strapped Benson family moves in, knowing full well that they’re getting the house for a song because of its murderous history.
Even casual fans of the franchise will have to suspend their disbelief about the setting. Unlike previous entries that simply imported a haunted object in a new house, The Amityville Haunting pretends that what is obviously an average suburban house is the same cat eyed home where the Lutzs lived and the DeFeos were murdered (Not helping matters is that this is very clearly California, not NY).
Like many Amityville families, the Bensons need a fresh start. Father Doug (Jason Williams) is an authoritarian who bosses his children around like soldiers, while mother Virginia (Amy Van Horne) is put upon and disgruntled. Oldest teen Lori (Nadine Crocker) is rebellious and the source of much of the conflict: she’s been sneaking out and getting into trouble, which has prompted the family to move repeatedly.
Like Amityville 3-D, the youngest daughter Melanie (Gracie Largent) is the most susceptible to supernatural influence. She immediately strikes up a friendship with John Matthews, the ghost of a young murder victim that The Amityville Haunting repeatedly milks for scares.
The final member of the Benson family is pre-teen middle child Tyler (Devin Clark), who acts as the cameraman for most of the film. Knowing the history of Amityville, he opts to make a documentary when the family moves in, speaking directly to the camera in confessionals and seamlessly (unbelievably) captures all of the necessary exposition and whispered conversations of the adults.
At the end of the first act, Meed makes a smart choice by having Doug install cameras around the house, which reduces the need to have Tyler present for every important moment while also expanding the visual palette of the film. The living room camera is typically in black and white, while the camera in the stairwell is night vision green. Is Amityville Haunting aping Paranormal Activity? Absolutely, but it still mostly works.
Less successful are the performances, particularly the adults. While the kids are reasonably fine, Williams and Van Horne are simply not good (the former is unconvincing as a PTSD-stricken soldier while the latter is very, VERY shrill). Meed’s script doesn’t help matters by relying heavily on repetitive dialogue (take a shot each time Tyler is told to turn off the camera), particularly in the drawn-out middle section when the film goes into an obvious holding pattern before rushing through the climax.
In an obvious attempt to cover the production’s limited budget, violent moments are frequently interrupted by cuts to black and pixelated video accompanied by static sound cues. This would be more forgivable if Meed and his team didn’t rely on the technique so heavily, which very quickly becomes grating. The first two deaths, in particular, are poorly executed: the camera cuts to black before simply revealing a prone body on the ground. It’s a cheap cop-out; both the audience and the film knows it.
Things do get better for the climax (comparatively speaking) with one bedroom scene incorporating decent acrobatics and a kitchen jump scare that works well. Obviously The Amityville Haunting was holding out for these big moments, but it could have done with more of them or at least a stronger script to keep impatient viewers invested until the finale.
As it stands, there simply isn’t enough here, particularly when the film’s main novelty – the found footage element – is done so much better elsewhere. Skip this one and go watch Paranormal Activity instead.
The Amityville IP Awards
- Scariest Sequence: Lori’s bedroom attack is the most effective sequence because it successfully merges the impassivity of a fixed security camera, supernaturally corrupted video footage and the static sound cues.
- Biggest Unintentional Laugh: It should be scary or at least disarming, but Doug reverting back to Afghanistan soldier mode in front of his horrified family is uncomfortably funny.
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