Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Amityville Horror / ** (R)

George Lutz: Ryan Reynolds
Kathy Lutz: Melissa George
Billy Lutz: Jesse James
Michael Lutz: Jimmy Bennett
Chelsea Lutz: Chloe Grace Moretz
Lisa: Rachel Nichols
Father Callaway: Philip Baker Hall

MGM and Dimension Films present a film directed by Andrew Douglas. Written by Scott Kosar. Based upon the novel by Jay Anson. Running time: 90 min. Rated R (for violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexuality and drug use).

What is with all these horror remakes lately? It isn’t that they shouldn’t be made. But it is like they are being made by fans who never really understood what they were about. The original Amityville Horror told a tale that was “based on a true story,” but it also told a tale of shifting values in the family unit. As the seventies came to a close the free love of the sixties and the partying of the seventies was taking its toll on the family unit. There was a break down of family values going on in society as a whole and the story of the Amityville killings was a reflection of that. Now, The Amityville Horror has been remade after about twenty-five years since the original,plus numerous sequels and a television series. Through all that the point has been lost.

Before I go too far down the negativity road, however, I should give the film some credit for at least acknowledging the original film’s focus on family values, by going a little deeper into the family dynamic than that film. The Lutz’s are a broken family that is trying to reestablish itself as a whole. Kathy (Melissa George, 2003-04 season of Alias) has been through a divorce and carries with her three children, Billy, Michael and Chelsea. She recently re-married to George, who finds himself in the unenviable position as the replacement dad. The oldest, Billy, seems to be taking the transition to having a new father figure the hardest.

Ryan Reynolds, as George, continues his bid to become a legitimate movie actor, shaking off his TV sitcom days of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place for more serious action oriented fare such as Blade: Trinity and this high profile remake. He doesn’t do a bad job. He very good at getting that sticky situation of being the new dad across and his charm could very well win those kids over.

In an effort to start their life anew, the Lutz’s decide to buy a new house on Long Island. It will be a stretch for George’s contracting business to bring in enough funds; but the house, or rather mansion, is such a bargain they can’t turn it down. Of course, the reason it is such a bargain is because it was the sight of a grizzly murder. A young man killed his parents and siblings one night and then took his own life. In his journals he claimed the voices he heard in the house told him to do it.

Reynolds’ performance becomes even more dynamic as the house itself is soon possessing George. Some might consider Reynolds a sort of poor man’s Jim Carrey, but like Carrey he proves capable of carrying both the comedic and dramatic aspects of his role very well. His evil turn is just as dark as his lighter moments are relieving.

Reynolds, however, is just about the only thing this movie really gets right, and even that is not quite right when compared to James Brolin’s George Lutz in the original. Brolin’s Lutz is a darker character to begin with, so the changes in his personality once the house starts to take over are subtler. Reynolds’ Lutz has a total personality change that should be a much less forgivable shift for his family to witness. Now, Reynolds does just what the script requires of him, so the blame falls more on first time director Andrew Douglas and screenwriter Scott Kosar (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

Douglas and Kosar seem to have caught on to the wave of J-horror, as they utilize a good deal of Japanese ghost horror flick techniques that are for the most part effective, however these creepy ghosts seem to draw the audience’s attention from the potential menace of the house itself.

The scariest scene in the original involves a priest, Father Callaway here (Philip Baker Hall, Magnolia), who goes to bless the house and is attacked by flies and told by the house itself to “Get out!” In that version the line is whispered. This time around the house screams it and the flies are such a quick assault on the priest that there is no time for the tension of the scene to grow. Kathy Lutz is also quite religious in the original, but in this one she only seems to find religion out of nowhere just so this signature scene could be inserted into the picture.

The new version places the story back into its original 1970s time period, making it a “period piece,” however there really is very little sense of these events happening in any time other than the present. Save a few wide collars and references to a couple of toys from that time that the kids play with, like Operation, the production design does little to transport its audience into the heart of the seventies. Again it seems as if they are trying to evoke the memory of the original film, but they don’t give it the proper substance.

While family morals are still a topical subject, this new version of Amityville, like too many of these horror remakes, is more interested in shocking its audience with baseless images than actually tackling the frightening moral issues families face today. And instead of following this idea of the family horror through to the end, as the original did so effectively when the recovered George realizes he has left the family dog behind in the basement, the area of the house where the evil seems to be the most concentrated; this new version gets sidetracked with an explanation of just how this particular property became a hot spot for evil. Needless to say the prolonged reasoning for this evil entity is a lame duck that has little to do with what has been presented to the audience up to the point of the film’s climax. The Amityville Horror certainly had the potential to be a worthwhile remake, but without enough reason on the writer and director’s parts for remaking it to begin with, this house collapses from its poorly structured foundation.


Anonymous said...

I think when you scratch back the surface of this movie, you'll get an earthy smell. Obtuse. Bees wax. Maple syrup. Wait, I'm keeping that one.

Andrew D. Wells said...

New tagline: Scratch and you will smell... the horror. The Amityville Horror.