The new Amityville film is another in a long line that has failed to make a coherent and decent story out of one of the most famous hauntings in American history.
This time around we follow Belle (Bella Thorne), a moody teenager who is pissed her mother Joan (playing by freakin Jennifer Jason Leigh) for moving the family into a new home. Belle’s brother is terminally ill, and the move is done for reasons(?) to help him out. The Amityville horror (legend and film) exist in this narrative (they’re becoming self aware!) and that does allow for a bit of meta-commentary. Belle is immediately known as the new girl living in the haunted house, so she is more or less out casted. Her goth demeanor is meant to exemplify her social isolation (I guess), but with almost every other decent idea in this film that aspect of her character flutters away like a drunk bird.
I actually don’t think Thorne does too poorly in this. Perhaps I am being too nice, but with the characters she has to interact with I think she did the best she could. Her only friends at school are a walking embodiment of the “internet nice guy” and one of his friends. The interactions with these three serve more as exposition dumps rather than plot building. Through nice guy we get caught up on the history of the house and the film and blah blah blah. I can’t imagine a lot of this information was needed—who would watch this without at least being aware of the original?
I try to start with the biggest fault of a film, and I am somewhat uncertain as to what it is here. Perhaps it is the fact that the film is not scary—at all. The Ryan Reynolds remake some years ago upped the jump-scares and gore factor to make at least a serviceable horror show (mind you this one was also rated R). This new one seems to have no interest in being scary and would rather opt for family drama, but that simply doesn’t work. I am not kidding here: the film spends more time showing us Thorne’s ass then it does trying to scare us. Thorne may have actually been underage during some of these scenes (the film has been in development and release hell for years) and even if she is of age, her character isn’t. It is hard to not feel a little sleazy watching a sixteen-year-old run around her house in her underwear with the camera making sure to give us a sexualized view. Remember folks: cheap sex appeal is cheap.
Perhaps even more annoying than the film failing to deliver a good story is the terrible characters. This might be the worst performance by Leigh—ever. Joan’s character is senseless, stupid, and annoying. As we learn more about her she becomes even more despicable, and the forced conflict between Belle and Joan serves no purpose other than to fluff out the run time as much as possible.
I’m not going to lie; I was actually looking forward to this one. I truly believe that the Amityville story can be told well. The original is cheesy, but it still holds up decently today. Why this story seems so elusive to adapt (even The Conjuring series blows by it instead of even trying) doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. My first warning should have been that this one is a PG-13 adaptation. I don’t think good horror needs to be R rated, but the correlation is certainly there.
While this film isn’t good (at all) it is also not the worst thing you will see. It simply exists. I don’t know who the target audience was, but I don’t see horror newbies or veterans particularly enjoying the story. Not worth a watch. 4/10