Let’s go back to a familiar house.
The Amityville Murders is (I think) the 6,723 film about the infamous home in New York. Honestly, this might be the most well-known haunted house story in contemporary America. This new one does something a little new as it tells the story of the original owners, the Defoes. Most of the films take place after Butch had killed his family.
The newer idea to approach an old story doesn’t come together very well. Any goodwill the film gains is squandered in the first fifteen minutes. We get a stereotypically offensive Italian family as the weak mother and children bow to the over-the-top abusive father, Ronnie.
Familial abuse is an important topic. Further, this film could have explored the idea of Butch simply being a drug addict who finally snapped and lashed out against his father. Unfortunately, this thread isn’t really explored, so the “Was there supernatural elements” line at the end rings a bit hollow. The house is haunted in the film as more than just Butch sees/hears the ghosties. This is unfortunate because we end up with just another haunted house tale we all know the ending to.
Butch and Dawn are the two kids we are supposed to care about (I guess) as the other three are mostly absent. It doesn’t help that the film seems uncertain as to who the main character is meant to be. Butch probably gets the most screen time, but his interactions rarely allow us any sort of insight into what he is thinking. Dawn serves as more of an exposition machine than anything else.
The film adds in a heavy-handed mafioso thread where it seems that Ronnie is holding money for the mob (and it is stolen by the ghosts). I am not an expert in the actual story surrounding the real murder, but this is the first I have heard of this connection (outside of one of Butch’s odd defenses that he was innocent, and mobsters had done it all). Adding this in is insulting to the Defeo family if not true. If it is true, it seems odd this connection is more well known.
Perhaps the largest problem is that the mafia crap doesn’t matter—just like the drugs, social tensions, abuse, deals with demons, the weird link of the grandmother, the Native American lore, the visions, or anything else in this film. It fails on a basic narrative level to create a cohesive story, which is fairly surprising giving how this movie is literally treading old ground.
We as the audience aren’t given a clear frame for any of the scenes. What this results in is a lot of moments that lack any obvious significance spoken by characters who we don’t know.
The saddest part is this film isn’t the exception in the troubled franchise. Of the 20+ films about Amityville (the number will vary if you include made-for-TV or not) none of them are particularly good. Yet, I find myself drawn to the story like so many others. Maybe we will eventually get something that is well-told, but I don’t think it is going to happen anytime soon.