This is a slightly better-than-expected remake of the 1979 film of the same name, which in turn was based on the best selling book by Jan Anson. Inspired by an allegedly true incident (which has actually been widely debunked), the film portrays what happens when the Lutz family moves into a house where the previous occupants were murdered by one family member driven by demonic voices in his head.
Although the filmmakers are guilty of a certain dishonesty in continuing to pretend that the events of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR actually happened, there is no doubt that the pretense of telling a “true” story had some benefits: The film presents a sort of everyday reality gradually turning nightmarish. Because no one died in the house (outside of the prologue showing the murders of the previous), the story cannot descend into mechanical body count and must instead rely implied menace and uncanny manifestations. And rather slyly, much of the action (which mostly consists of step-father George Lutz falling gradually under the house’s evil spell) seems designed to suggest that the supernatural manifestations are actually a metaphor for a more realistic kind of evil, such as child abuse. (When George hacks up the family dog, the audience is invited to think, “Sure, he says the Devil made him do it, but maybe he’s just a sick bastard.”)
Visually, the film makes use of techniques we’ve come to expect in the horror genre, such as blurry, stroboscopic images flashing across the screen. Although effective, these techniques (which first gained prominence in 1999’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL) are starting to look dated, especially after the flowering of a new style seen in Japanese films like RINGU and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE.
Despite its modest virtues, the film eventually collapses under the weight of its genre obligations. The source material is a thinly disguised pastiche of familiar material (notably THE EXORCIST), and the attempt to update the remake for a new audience adds another layer of familiarity, with scenes reminiscent of HELLRAISER, POLTERGEIST II, and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, among others.
Finally, trapped with an anti-climactic ending (the family simply leaves the house), the script resorts to invention: the stepfather shifts into full monster mode, going after his family with an ax in a protracted scene that plays out like a combination of THE STEPFATHER and THE SHINING. Unfortunately, Ryan Reynolds, who gives a good performance in the early stages, believably portraying a man trying hard to fit in with his new wife’s kids, is simply not a very effective bogeyman.
With no actual victims, the film resorts to some fake-out dream imagery in order to register a little bit of gore. After that, there’s even a CARRIE-inspired hands-reach-out-of-the-ground last-shot shocker involving the little girl ghost named Jodi (Jodi was apparently a Satanic pig in the book—so much for accuracy!).
The real-life George Lutz was unhappy with the previous film version of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and he was even more upset with the way he was portrayed in the remake. Lutz claims that neither version is an accurate account of the events described in the book; among other things, he points out that he had never killed the family dog.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005). Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay by Scott Korsar, based on the previous screenplay Sandor Stern, adapted from the book by Jay Anson. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloe Moretz, Phillip Baker Hall
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