Directed by: Andrew Douglas
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloe Grace Moretz, Philip Baker Hall
Saying that the new version of The Amityville Horror is better than the old version is not, in itself, a recommendation. I will give the film this: It's shorter and better acted (which speaks volumes about the acting in the original), and it isn't bogged down with the type of nonsense that asks us to believe we're actually watching a true story. Oh, sure, the movie has one of those "based on true events" claims, but what follows is likely to bamboozle only those people who insisted on the documentary reality of the opening footage of the same producer/writer team's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The original Amityville's ponderous 118 minutes was all about proving that flies, bad plumbing and a scenery-chewing Rod Steiger constituted ipso facto proof of demonic possession -- in such a catatonic fashion that you wondered how anyone ever concluded that the house in question was haunted.
Blessedly, the new version junks all attempts at justifying the claims of Jay Anson's best-selling book about the Lutz family's (subsequently debunked) claims of unfortunate experiences in the titular domicile. Unfortunately, screenwriter Scott Kosar and director Andrew Douglas haven't come up with anything worthwhile in the way of substitution.
Mostly, they plunder other horror movies in hopes of making the audience jump out of their seats. And they may have accomplished that, though I doubt they intended audiences to jump up and head for the exits, which seems the most likely response. Rarely has rampant mayhem seemed this dull.
The movie opens by cribbing the grainy black-and-white setup offered in -- surprise! -- the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Here we're treated to the sight of Ronnie Defeo offing his entire family and claiming the devil made him do it, thereby freeing up this choice chunk of real estate for the Lutzes. It's violent and unpleasant enough -- but hardly creepy.
Douglas follows this by invoking -- for no very good reason -- Halloween with a point-of-view shot (through a diving mask, of all things) of little Michael Lutz (Jimmy Bennett, Hostage) walking in on mom Kathy (Melissa George, TV's Alias) and step-dad George (Ryan Reynolds, Blade Trinity) in bed. This doesn't lead to anything, mind you; it just establishes that Douglas has seen some horror movies.
Soon, and for most of the film, he'll prove that he's also seen The Shining. It's too bad that he apparently didn't understand that film. Unlike Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in the Kubrick film, George Lutz doesn't slowly descend into madness (or possession, if you prefer) from the effects of his environment. He merely has to set foot in the house and he's already pretty much 'round the bend.
This is partly the fault of Ryan Reynolds, who can be a likable performer, but here he's reduced to two notes: normal and nuts. The normal is merely bland, the nuts more unpleasant than menacing. But he's not entirely to blame, since the script doesn't give him much to work with. He's so obviously meant to be a clone of the Nicholson character that, once he gets that axe in his hands, you keep expecting him to break through a door and let out a smirky, "Here's Johnny!"
At least he's given a character, which is more than can be said of anyone else in the cast, who are mostly there to react to the movie's attempts to shock. The bulk of the film is relegated to trying to make the viewer jump with spooky-looking dead folks who pop up like overcooked toaster pastries with such deadly precision that all the shock is gone, leaving you with "bah" rather than "boo."
Melissa George is the worst victim of the script, since she doesn't do anything until the laughable last reel, when she learns of the house's real history -- which involves some whacko Puritan minister who tortured Native Americans to death in the basement (in a manner suggesting he'd seen Hellraiser one time too many) before offing himself so that he'd live forever. With this discovery, George runs home just in time to turn into Shelly Duvall's Shining character for the breathlessly stupid climax.
Extremely easy-to-please horror fans may get some amusement out of all this, but I can't imagine anyone else not being bored beyond endurance -- unless seeing Ryan Reynolds' minus his shirt and wearing perilously low pajamas is sufficient distraction. And if that's the case, you can get the same thing in Blade Trinity and have a better time all around. Rated R for violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexuality and drug use.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke