dir. Franck Khalfoun
reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki
Here I am after finally seeing a film that, even in a form that might be pretty far removed from its original intent, has been floating in the back of my mind for a couple years as a holy grail of sorts. For a while, the idea of seeing this recent collaboration between Blumhouse and Dimension Films in any form gave me the same feeling that I’d have if I found a watchable copy of The Day The Clown Cried or Santo Gold’s Blood Circus.
Originally filmed in 2014 for a release in January 2015, it missed its first release date with little fanfare. Then it missed another. Then reports of reshoots popped up, followed by yet another release date missed. I saw a trailer for it in front of 10 Cloverfield Lane the day after Dimension announced another delay from its then-April release, along with an additional worrying development: it’s not an R anymore, it’s been edited to a PG-13.
In the January 2017 issue of The Northern Student, I covered this film as part of a preview of the January dumping ground. Since I figured the movie would still somehow evade its long-awaited theatrical release, I left a note to be printed in case the movie didn’t make its January 6th release date. Needless to say, I was right.
After a quick theatrical dump into random foreign territories, I’ve now finally watched this movie as part of a free one-day promotion with Google Play on October 12th. By the time this review gets published, the ability to legally see it for free might be gone, but honestly, don’t worry about it.
Belle (Bella Thorne) moves into 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, NY with her mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to help take care of her vegetative brother James (Cameron Monaghan). After random spooky stuff pops up solely to jump-scare the audience, Belle discovers that the house she moved into is the infamous Amityville house where Ronald DeFeo blasted his whole family with a shotgun. Whatever it is also seems to be helping James miraculously recover from his condition, although at a deadly cost.
The movie’s been over for a few minutes at this point and I’ve already forgotten a good chunk of what I just watched. I can tell you that it was an overall underwhelming and dramatically inert experience, but details have mostly already escaped me. I could tell when certain scenes were edited for that sweet PG-13 rating, since this movie seems to be allergic to showing a whole lot of blood.
Not to mention that most of this film looks like a made-for-Lifetime film that happened to be shot in scope. There are a number of shots that are so hazily focused that they start to resemble the later period of Lucio Fulci’s filmography, but even those shots are bogged down by a lower-grade digital camera feel that flattens the entire production.
Nobody on screen is even trying to give a decent performance, not even the Academy Award-nominated Jennifer Jason Leigh. It matches the almost nonexistent characterization given to them from whatever remains of its script. At least Cameron Monaghan bugged his eyes out a whole bunch while doing his best Patrick impression; it’s not much, but it’s something silly to wake the audience up a tad.
There’s a weird meta subplot through the 20-30 minute stretch where Belle’s friend pulls out a DVD of the original The Amityville Horror out of nowhere and then they watch it in the Amityville house. So we, the audience, have now been unexpectedly thrust in a universe where not only are the events of the book and movie completely true, but the Amityville Horror franchise also exists.
During this subplot, they also take a jab at the 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds, which is… okay, the remake isn’t a very good movie either, but this particular reboot sure is one to talk about reboots sucking. Reminds me of X-Men: Apocalypse‘s weird jab at Return of the Jedi.
The moment Thomas Mann flashed the DVD cover on screen, I was whiplashed into a giggling fit, in disbelief that this movie was taking this direction. Unfortunately, this subplot serves no purpose except to tell Belle the house is haunted. It goes nowhere and her friends mostly dip out of the movie right after this, but it’s one of the very few elements of this that goaded an emotional response out of me.
They also do a callback of sorts to the incest in Amityville II: The Possession, but they devote just one shot to it and then never bring it up again. If workprint leaks were still a regular thing that happened, I’d be interested to see if this particular subplot ever went anywhere in an earlier version of the movie.
I still want to grade this movie on a curve just because of all the abuse it’s been through. I wouldn’t know how much of it was reworked over the years of waiting, but the original trailer from 2014 doesn’t seem to show any scenes that weren’t in the movie. I’m still glad I was able to actually lay eyes on it, but it was only enjoyable in spurts and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who’d come to it from a more casual perspective.
Franck Khalfoun is a solid director who made the excellent Maniac remake with Elijah Wood, and I’d happily recommend that over this stale old pile of junk any day. Honestly, I’d recommend that over any of the Amityville Horror movies, they’re pretty boring save for Amityville II.