An underrated sequel that rarely gets its due, and tackles some terrifying ideas with its story.
The Amityville Horror. 2005. Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the earlier screenplay by Sandor Stern/the novel by Jay Anson.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloë Grace Moretz, Rachel Nichols, Philip Baker Hall, Isabel Conner, and Brendan Donaldson. Platinum Dunes. 18A. 90 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.
3.5 out of 5 stars
I’m not someone who gets overly upset about remakes. Though I’m not necessarily always a fan of what comes out the other end of the Hollywood meat machine, there are benefits to remakes. I mean, some film fans act as if it’s a big deal somebody discovers an older movie because of its remake. Remakes have been going on since the 1950s, maybe even a little earlier, so get off the high horse first of all. Second of all, why do certain snobbish film fans expect other people to be researching the history of a movie? So what if somebody sees a movie and then realizes it’s a remake? A lot of times people will end up seeing the original and then saying “Wow that’s way better”. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say similar things, glad to have seen the original film.
Not to say The Amityville Horror remake is amazing. It’s not. I would say it’s better than just mediocre, but still not great. I think what I like about this one particularly is that Ryan Reynolds plays George Lutz pretty well, as well as the fact not everything looks like a commercial – such is the Platinum Dunes tradition of making horror look all glossy, with sexy people showing off their sexiness. There is a little of this, honestly, throughout the movie. Far less than any of the other Platinum Dunes remakes – think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, both equally abysmal and sexualized bits of horror blasphemy.
This is a decent remake, though, certainly not better than the original. Not for me, anyways. What I do like about this one is that they dive a bit further into the backstory about the Lutz house. Again as I’ve said before in my review of the original film, I don’t believe the supposed hogwash “true story” behind the whole Amityville ordeal. That being said, I still enjoy the fictionalized telling of the hoax on film. Good haunted house type of stuff, even some nastiness here and there to drive home that horror.
I won’t bore anyone with describing the plot. If you’ve not yet discovered the original, or haven’t otherwise read about the story, check it out online. Plenty of stuff out there. Aside from that, we’re going to go at it right away.
One thing I do enjoy here is the cinematography. There’s a nice atmosphere, which is my favourite thing in horror. If a director and cinematographer together can set the tone of a film off the bat, things pan out so much better from there on out, as long as the tone is upheld.
Peter Lyons Collister is the cinematographer for this film. Until I actually went and checked, I didn’t know that he was also cinematographer on Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; I’m actually a big fan of that one, personally. He was also director of photography on John Singleton’s excellent film Higher Learning. What Collister does here is keep things darkened through almost every single frame of the film. Even when we’re outdoors in the light, or walking with a character through a hallway of the house where sun is shining through the windows, there’s a dim quality to everything I find keeps things eerie. Not to say it’s all drenched in darkness. There are so many scenes, though, almost every one, where Collister keeps things shadowy. Something of which I’m a huge fan. Gave the film that atmosphere I enjoy.
Something I enjoyed about this Amityville Horror is that even quicker and more immediately than the original, the plot of this film kicks in with intensity almost the minute they move into the house. The tension between George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy (Melissa George) Lutz goes up ten notches under the house’s influences. Otherwise, there is barely any real tension. Even the kids – George’s stepchildren – become more irritating to him than they ever were before. You can tell when they first get there, after a scene or two with him and the kids, there’s a tiny bit of awkwardness still left, as the kids do miss their father; obviously. But so quickly, the house exerts its grip on George, and it begins to affect everything and everyone around him.
Another thing is that I enjoyed the way the children were so affected by the house, as well. In the original they experienced quite a bit in their own right, but the majority was heaped all on George. It’s still mostly like that, however, we see the kids all get terrorized a for nice while. The youngest boy sees a ghastly image next to him in the bathroom mirror while he washes his hands in the middle of the night – a solid jump scare. Worst of all, little Chelsea Lutz (Chloë Grace Moretz) seems to be entranced by the invisible friend she calls Jodie – who is actually Jodie DeFeo (Isabel Conner), murdered by her older brother as he killed their entire family a year before the Lutz’s arrival in 1975. This goes to great lengths, as Chelsea and Jodie get closer and closer.
The downfall of The Amityville Horror remake, why it can’t surpass the original for me, is mostly because it gets that modern day Platinum Dunes treatment, as I mentioned before – the one suffered by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes alike.
First of all, there’s the part with the babysitter. I mean – there was just no need to sexualize that character so much. It’s fine to have a wild babysitter, that would’ve been different than the first film, but why make her a young girl all dolled up wearing the tiniest top, low-cut jeans, showing off her ribs and her stomach? It’s just another obvious idiotic marketing film executive thinking “Hmmm how do we get more young men watching horror? Let’s add sex”. But then there’s the further idiotic idea that, because she’s an obviously sexual young woman, an even younger boy drooling all over her, and because she smokes pot in the bathroom, then OF COURSE SHE MUST BE TERRORIZED IN THE CLOSET! Sure, put her in the closet – why does it need to feel like she’s being set up to be punished, though? Make her sexy then make her pay? Dumb Platinum Dunes style crap.
I felt truly weird about the whole scene where she was laying on the bed with this kid talking to her. Such an awkward scene.
Then we can’t ignore Ryan Reynolds showing off his abs – seemingly always greased and glistening – which is just downright silly. It was like at certain times someone said “WHIP OFF THAT SHIRT, RYAN. SOMEBODY: GREASE HIM UP!” I mean, I get that sometimes people don’t have shirts on, but it’s like there’s such an intense need for Platinum Dunes remakes to try and focus on wet, slick bodies, as if that draws people somehow to the movie.
This is the sort of stuff which really tears me out of a film, regardless if it’s horror or not. Another reason for people to hate remakes, so it irks me when I see this kind of stuff. Does not help the genre whatsoever.
George Lutz: “There’s no bad houses there’s just bad people”
So, as I said before, I do like the backstory they put into the remake. I have no time for the supposedly “true story”, because it’s not true. Though I really enjoy the fictionalized telling of the story. Here, we get disturbing and weird stuff as George Lutz descends from a fairly regular, everyday man towards a pit of madness into which he gets sucked by the evil in that house. He looks tired all the time, he’s getting angrier by the minute, and his paranoia begins to pulse almost as noticeable as the blood in his veins, the beat in his heart. All due to the house and the demons living in the very foundation.
This is the best stuff. As George starts to see and hear so many things throughout the house, we’re treated to a lot of macabre and unsettling imagery. They’re not all jumpy NOISE TO SCARE YOU type shots either. A couple come up, no doubt, but they’re not relied on solely for Andrew Douglas to scare us. We get enough to be able to enjoy; I find when too many jump scares happen, I’m just desensitized and not scared any longer. With only a handful, this helps to creep me out. Most of all, it’s the weird story of the preacher, the things he did to the Indians and all that which freaks me out most. Great work on that part because it was intense and freaky.
In the end, I really enjoy Ryan Reynolds in this film as George Lutz. Not to say I put him or James Brolin over one or the other, but what I truly liked is how much of George going crazy is fit into the script for this remake. There is a lot more to him stalking around the house, digging around in the basement, in the walls, watching videos, waking up to the clock at 3:15 AM. So I think that’s something, plus the creepy as hell backstory of the house with the preacher and all that, which made me enjoy this almost as much as the original. Not quite as much, close though.
This is about a 3.5 out of 5 film. That whole bit with the babysitter, the sexualization – really takes things down a notch, and I wish Platinum Dunes would keep the needless stuff out of their remakes. It would help them if they want to appeal to true genre fans. We don’t need that sort of crap just thrown into scenes, especially if it makes no sense and serves no purpose whatsoever.
If you really want the best, go for the original. That being said, there are a lot of worse remakes than this one, and at least Andrew Douglas tried to craft a genuine atmosphere of suspense and fear instead of relying totally on shock horror or jump scares to get the response for which he was looking.