I love it when the tagline for a movie doubles as hidden instructions to the unassuming crowd about to view it. It’s almost like a disclaimer that you only understand after, in this case, eighty-seven minutes of life draining stupidity that you can’t get back without a time machine and a flux capacitor. Yes, dear friends, 2005’s The Amityville Horror is truly that awful.
Many will recall 1979’s film of the same name starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder. It is an old fashioned, effective horror film that uses atmosphere, solid visuals, and down-to-earth characters to get the blood flowing. It is now a cult classic, which means it’s ripe for the picking to be slaughtered by producer Michael Bay, who bludgeoned the classic of all horror classics, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with a horrid remake back in 2003.
This Amityville has the identical setup, which is prefaced by the eternal slogan “based on true events.” In November of 1974 police were dispatched to the home of the DeFeos, a well-liked, church-going family. The police made a grisly discovery that night to the tune of six dead bodies, all killed with a .35 caliber rifle as they slept. Family member Ronald DeFeo confessed to committing the crime, but told police that voices inside the house told him to do it.
A year later the house is up for sale and for dirt cheap. This immediately peaks the interest of George (Reynolds) and Kathy (George) Lutz. They are an unassuming couple with three kids, Billy (James), Michael (Bennett), and Chelsea (Moretz). The scariest realtor ever tells them of the tragedy that occurred in the house just a year earlier, but the Lutzs press on with their purchase. You can probably guess what happens from here.
Bay and company do what they do best when they get their hands on a project: Suck the life out of it and replace it with ADD-style camera work, cheap scares, and characters so dumb that you just wish that Leatherface would make a cameo and finish them all off. There are also plot holes galore, with a severe lack of development to the film’s back story. It takes Kathy over an hour into the film to finally get to the library and figure out why their house is off-the-scale bananas. While there she discovers other morbid facts about the house that serve as bait for nightmarish acts that may or may not be real. What’s the point? Why not further delve into the religious undertones throughout the film? Who was the man walking outside behind George in a key shot?
Ryan Reynolds is crucially miscast here. As a young man of sorts, I would like to deliver a short memo to studios considering using Reynolds in anything other than a comedy: Ryan Reynolds will forever be Van Wilder. Any attempts to get him to act in anything serious will be met with riotous laughter at inopportune times, as was readily apparent at tonight’s screening of this film. He was partially responsible for ruining Blade: Trinity, and he strikes again here. The rest of cast is suitably wasted, and unfortunately includes one of the most dependable actors around, Philip Baker Hall. I kept waiting for him to save the film from total oblivion, but it was to no avail.
The screenplay by Scott Kosar is a real Scotch tape job if I’ve ever seen one, and that’s pretty sad considering he had two key documents to adapt from. Character development is zilch and the dialogue that is forced to be spoken is flat out embarrassing. As we all know by now, horror characters are by nature stupid, but this is crazy stupid. After one or two nights of seeing blood-drenched dead people I’d be adios amigos. Instead we are forced to endure characters who think it’s all just craziness that will pass over if they just hang in there. Andrew Douglas’ direction has a nice look, but he clearly struggles in trying to put together a story that is anything other than absurd and carelessly crafted. We’re a mile ahead of the story from minute one.
The Amityville Horror is supposedly a true story, even though the true life George Lutz has already publicly blasted this film: “I am appalled at the lack of personal integrity in the name of hype and promotion. This (film) is supposed to be about my family and the 28 days we lived in the house, instead it is something formed in the minds of others not concerned with anything more than box office numbers and self import.” *
Mindless, sloppy, and containing only a few good jolts, this is one of the most skippable movies so far this year. I must admit, however, that I do have a small bit of admiration for a film that actually tries to be worse than Hide and Seek. That should tell you all you need to know.
*IMDB news, 4-12-05
Length: 87 Minutes
Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexuality and drug use. (edited for re-rating)
Theatrical Release: April 15, 2005
Directed by: Andrew Douglas
Written by: Scott Kosar. 1979 screenplay by Sandor Stern. Based upon the novel by Jay Anson.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloe Moretz, Rachel Nichols