Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Amityville Horror (2005)

Directed by Andrew Douglas.
2005. Rated PG-13, 89 minutes.
Melissa George
Jesse James
Jimmy Bennett

In 1979, The Amityville Horror hit theaters, and not only became a hit movie, but a cultural phenomenon. People actually made the trek to New York to see the house where the movie was set because it was supposedly a true story. I don’t knock anyone for believing in ghosts and/or haunted houses. To each his own. However, I do have to question the intelligence of people who believe it to be true and go there on purpose. What if it is? Being in the midst of a demonic paranormal entity doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs to me. As noted in my review of the original, whether or not our tale is rooted in reality has been hotly debated and largely debunked. What is inarguable is that it provided the template for the modern haunted house movie which is still being ripped off ad nauseum all these years later.

This brings us to the remake you came here to read about. The setup is the same as the older movie. The Lutz family is house shopping for a place suitable for their family of six: George (Reynolds), Kathy (George), three kids, and one dog. The kids and the dog came with Kathy as part of a package deal, having remarried after the death of her first husband. They check out the fateful house and it is obviously out of their price range. No worries, the real estate agent assures them she’s letting it go cheap. When asked what gives, she explains what we saw at the very beginning. The year before, some nut got up out of bed at 3:15 AM and blasted everyone in his family with a shotgun. Since it is a beautiful house, and George wants to make his woman happy, the Lutzes decide to buy it. After all, as George so eloquently puts it, “houses don’t kill people.” We’ll just see about that, won’t we.

Right away, and every night at 3:15, things go haywire. George is affected more than anyone. The movie, including Reynolds himself, does a nice job with his rapidly deteriorating mental state. This is very clearly a man losing it. Just to make sure we know that it’s the house causing all of his issues, he’s a much nicer guy whenever he is away from it. For the most part, he drives the movie. The film, and the house, uses him to crank things up or ratchet them down at the appropriate times.

The character who shoulders the rest of the load is the daughter Chelsea. She interacts with the house in a way no one else does. As a result, she’s often in harm’s way. This is one of the very early performances of child star Chloë Grace-Moretz. She’s about as solid as any kid would be in the role, but it’s hard to tell from this that she would become a top notch and highly sought after talent with many horror titles on her resumé. Still, the movie effectively uses her to score easy sympathy points and provide some harrowing scenes.

On its own, this is a briskly pace film packed with creepy visuals. It hardly gives us a chance to catch our breath as it is constantly sprinting to the next big moment. Juxtaposed with its predecessor, we see that it is a more concentrated effort. This version is almost solely focused on the Lutz family. The story of Father Callaway (Hall), Father Delaney in the original, ran prominently alongside the main plot in that older flick, but is barely included here, almost totally diminished in importance and altered in execution. Conversely, the bit about Lisa (Nichols), the baby-sitter, is expanded into a much more intense scene and the character herself is completely different. The other major difference is how the dog is handled. In the original, it is used to show how caring a person George really is when not under the house’s influence. This time it’s used to demonstrate George’s loosening grip on reality.

It is my opinion that this is a very underrated movie. It ramps up the tension early and doesn't let up. Ryan Reynolds gives a very convincing performance of a guy flipping out. There are also excellent and unsettling visuals throughout. Normally, a ninety minute remake of a two hour movie is cause to ring the alarms. Ring them even louder when you add the fact that Michael Bay is a producer on this one. Logic tells us that so much would be left out it would feel incomplete. Honestly, there are things left out of this version. However, it feels like what was removed made it a more concise effort without sacrificing the essence of its predecessor. It’s just plain fun to sit through.

MY SCORE: 7/10

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