Amityville Haunting, The (2011)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-01-02 23:45

Written by: No one that will take credit, hopefully
Directed by: Geoff Meed
Starring: Luke Barnett, Devin Clark and Jon Kondelik

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

Be warned. The footage is real.

Typically, if “mockbuster” titans The Asylum are releasing a “sequel” in a franchise that was beget by one of the more well-loved horror movies ever, you’d cringe and meet it with derision. However, when that franchise is the Amityville franchise…well, you still cringe and meet it with derision because, after all, it’s still The Asylum. But maybe you don’t cringe quite as much since there’s a faint chance that even they might be able to produce something worthwhile in this series; I don’t even think you can refer to it as a “once-proud franchise,” as it really only had two pretty good movies before eventually sinking to outrageous, direct-to-video lows until it found itself in the Platinum Dunes crosshairs (which resulted in a movie that can be summed up like most of their output--“whatever, it’s fine”). So, really, The Asylum finds themselves in a position where they seemingly couldn’t do much more damage to a franchise that’s become just as infamously hellish as the haunted house at the center of it.

The Amityville Haunting returns the series back to video, of course, and also capitalizes on the recent found footage trend in a move that allows The Asylum do what they do best: subtly remind you of better movies while ripping them off in the laziest, cheapest way imaginable. You can almost hear the five minute pitch meeting playing out as you watch a group of idiot kids investigate the infamous house (“you know, it’s like the Blair Witch Project meets Amityville!”). Their investigation doesn’t last long, as some force within the house cuts it short, and we move on to our main story, which finds a family of five moving in (“wait, Blair Witch is so 1999, let’s make it more like Paranormal Activity!”).

And indeed, the patriarch sets up a video surveillance system once some weird events (well, the backdoor mysteriously opening, really) start happening. But that’s where the comparisons to Paranormal Activity cease, as The Amityville Haunting actually feels like watching somebody’s home movies; it would appear that someone at The Asylum thought it’d be easy enough to grab a camera and shoot, but they seemingly forgot to bring anything cinematic to the table. In short, there’s barely a story here; after the home realtor and one of the moving guys are mysteriously killed (two events we barely see and which barely seem to register with the family), we’re basically stuck watching them bicker about various things--there’s some throwaway dialogue about the oldest daughter being a wild child, so she gets the brunt of the blame. Her dad’s convinced she’s either sneaking out or letting a boy sneak in, which leads to a hilarious confrontation that ends with him pulling a handgun on a poor kid later in the movie.

I should mention that our host for this is the ten year old son, who is referred to as a little Spielberg, a comparison that I think even ten-year-old Spielberg would have begrudged. If anything, the kid is persistent, as he’s somehow able to capture just about everything, including private conversations between his parents and the police. And if there’s something he missed, don’t worry--each day ends with a recap where he not only fills in the gaps, but also repeats the stuff he actually did capture on camera, making him both annoying and redundant. The film cuts between his hand-held camera and the surveillance video, with neither capturing much in the way of any paranormal activity. His camera cuts out quite a bit, a lazy technique that’s overused to sell the “reality” of the whole thing, I guess, plus I suppose it’s the films way of letting us know that any potential malevolent entities don’t like being recorded. When said entity does reveal itself, it’s often in the form of a grey blob that looks like it was constructed out of a kid playing with gravy before it got superimposed on the lens. Even the usual haunted parlor tricks, like the opening and closing doors are realized in such a fashion that you’re sure there’s just some crew member on the other end doing the deed.

The only thing to be commended here is that The Asylum actually made a movie set inside of “the Amityville house”--we’re not dealing with a haunted lamp, dollhouse, toaster, or whatever relic managed to survive from the DeFeo or Lutz stints. This is unfortunately undercut by the fact that they barely even try to convince you of this--there’s a quick shot of the house’s distinctive façade, but even the infamous windows aren’t accurately represented . Call me crazy, but I’d at least try to get that detail right, considering that’s pretty much the series’ entire legacy: a pair of creepy quarter-moon windows. Instead, this is the type of film where the money shot is a guy flailing around on the ground while being electrocuted by a downed power-line. The Amityville mythology is expounded on once or twice for the sake of ambiance--we’re reminded of the DeFeo murders, and the youngest daughter strikes up a friendship with the ghost of a previous inhabitant. By the time the climax (which is ushered in by a great bad movie moment that sees the now insane army vet father going apeshit at his daughter’s invisible friend) arrives, you’re just left wondering why anyone thought it was a good idea to make a found footage movie where nothing interesting is found. Suspense is non-existent, and any illusion of reality is shattered by the poor acting. Since convincing, natural performances are the unsung linchpin of found footage, it shouldn’t be too surprising that The Amityville Haunting is sunk by these stilted, forced turns.

Maybe the most telling moment comes at the end, in the form of some coroner reports that detail the family’s fate--two of them apparently perish from “extream heat” (sic)--apparently, a proofreader wasn’t in the budget. Actually, scratch that--the lack of end credits makes it appear that a writer couldn't be afforded either, so that's probably more damning. It should also be noted that this concept isn’t even really all that inspired; this is likely meant to be a “mockbuster” of a potential new Amityville found footage film (The Amityville Tapes) that Dimension is attempting to get off the ground. I guess even The Asylum is smart enough to realize that the Weinsteins could keep that in development hell for a while, so they went ahead and spit this out on DVD that features an admittedly strong anamorphic transfer, plus a stereo soundtrack that’s adequate (basically, it gets rumbly and boomy when things occasionally happen). Extra features include a documentary of the Amityville murders, plus some trailers for other Asylum features in case you want to punish yourself further. I can’t say for sure that this is the worst Amityville movie of all time--I still haven’t seen The Amityville Curse; but, I can say with great certainty that this made me long for watching a shirtless Ryan Reynolds chop wood for 90 minutes, which is pretty much the lasting memory of my last trip to Amityville. Trash it!

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