Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Amityville Horror (2005) Brings Viewers Back to a Dark Age of American Horror Cinema

We currently live in a Golden Age of horror cinema. All around the world, the creative filmmaking juices are flowing and unique visions of horror movies are being delivered on a constant basis. The likes of Robert Eggers, Jennifer Kent, Ari Aster, Julia Ducournau and Jordan Peele are delivering some truly one-of-a-kind takes on the horror genre. But it has not always been this way. Though the 2000s had their fair share of noteworthy horror fare, but when it came to American horror cinema, way too much of the decade was squandered on tired torture porn movies and even worse horror remakes, the majority of the latter delivered in a mechanical conveyor belt manner by Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes.

One of these remakes that dominated multiplexes circa. 2005 and soiled the very name of the horror movie genre was The Amityville Horror. Remaking a 1979 movie of the same name, this directorial effort hailing from Andrew Douglas concerns the Lutz family, led by Kathy (Melissa George) and George (Ryan Reynolds), moving into a new home that previously was the home of a gruesome murder. The moment they move in, George begins to hearing voices telling him to kill the other family members while the youngest Lutz member, Chelsea (Chloe Grace Moretz) befriends a new imaginary friend that's actually the ghost of the daughter that died in this very same house.

The Amityville Horror is an insultingly lazy venture and nowhere is that truer than when it comes to the scares. All kinds of bad dialogue, characters and directing could be forgiven if this feature just delivered on the scares or some nifty death scenes, but The Amityville Horror settles for a whole bunch of predictable jump scares populated by eerie ghosts that could have been lifted from any other paranormal movie. Faring even worse in terms of scares is the gradual deterioration of George, who becomes fixated on both staying in the house and being as cruel to his family as possible. It's really not hyperbole to say that every part of this subplot goes as haywire as possible, it's like writer Scott Kosar wanted to make this part of The Amityville Horror the cinematic manifestation of Murphy's Law.

For one thing, George becomes too enamored with the house way too quickly, he doesn't so much gradually slide into toxic behavior as he does abruptly wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day. Watching him slowly spiral could be creepy, watching him just flip a switch in one scene and start constantly acting like a cartoonish villain is the total opposite of creepy. It doesn't help that Ryan Reynolds is just terribly cast in this critical role. Reynolds has a lot of gifts as an actor, but this kind of role that requires him to be convincingly menacing isn't his strong suit. Even when he's this close to swinging an axe into the head of one of the Lutz kids, Reynolds always seems like he's a moment away from breaking the tension with a quippy remark rather than seeming like he's a moment away from psychotic behavior.

Granted, a much better director likely could have guided Reynolds to an exceedingly superior performance. Director Andrew Douglas is sleepwalking behind the camera, the only time you get reminded there's someone operating the camera is during a goofy close-up when Kathy learns that Chelsea has been carrying around the dead daughter's teddy bear. Otherwise, The Amityville Horror is a flatly-realized project that seems to have been filmed on the same lake as that Friday the 13th remake Platinum Dunes would make four years later. Come to think of it, all the Platinum Dunes horror remakes tend to look the same. Maybe they just use the same equipment and sets from one movie to the next like an old Roger Corman effort?

It's far more fun to contemplate the behind-the-scenes mechanics informing the samey visual aesthetic of these Platinum Dunes horror movies than it is to actually watch The Amityville Horror.  It's an inept movie in every sense of the word, right down to a bizarrely ill-timed shot of eldest Lutz child Billy (Jesse James) making an expression that says "It's a living!" during an otherwise somber climax. Yes, this is an utterly terrible movie, but it would make good fodder for a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 if Jonah and the bots really wanna sink their teeth into something dismal. Best of all, I'd bet Ryan Reynolds would actually be down for showing up to briefly heckle the movie too!

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