The Amityville Horror (review)

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Axe Not

So — and this would have been around the time the 1979 Amityville Horror came out — there was this kid I went to elementary school with on Long Island, and he used to regale us with stories of the real Amityville Horror house, because he used to live on the same street, and this, in the annals of kiddom, was as good as having wielded a murderous axe himself.

Oh, and then, at the same time, there was the crazy neighbor lady who lived across the street from us, who told my mom to get our house blessed. I don’t think she ever told my mom why a blessing was required. Wondering about why a house would require a blessing is, I promise you, something that can keep a kid up at night.
Those things were way creepier and scarier than this new Amityville Horror. Much is being made of how this is brought to you by the same people who brought you 2003’s remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and that should be considered fair warning. This is just as pointless a retread, blatantly gruesome and outright gory where the original made your skin crawl with the awesome power of suggestion. There’s no black oily stuff coming up out of the toilet, no puking nuns, no staticky phone, no window slamming on a kid’s fingers. Just the same old desiccated reanimated dead people jumping out and saying Boo! like we see in absolutely everything that passes for “horror” these days.

Oh, and it’s got Ryan Reynolds wearing bloodshot contact-lens FX eyes and running around with an axe, too. At first I was thinking that I’d probably call this a parody of the original film, which is still effectively ooky today — you know, like how we’re so inured to being scared by movies that the only way to do a straightforward haunted-house flick is not to be straightforward, to play it as a joke. (If The Movies have taught us nothing else in the past 30 years, they have taught us that when your house intones “GET OUT” in a hellish moan, you get out. Set this remake in the 1970s if you want, but you still have to contend with today’s jaded audience.) How else can you, as a viewer, approach a movie in which someone as venerable and noble as Philip Baker Hall (Bruce Almighty, Dogville), as a priest, is forced to choke out a line like “Your house frightens me, Mrs. Lutz.” But as the film unspooled, I became increasingly convinced that if the film was getting laughs, it was doing so not because it intended to but because Ryan Reynolds (Blade: Trinity, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) is so dreadful an “actor” that the only possible human response to him is derisive guffawing.

Look, Reynolds is badly miscast to start with — his frat-boy vacancy might work, barely, as Van Wilder, but it cannot pass muster for George Lutz, suburban husband, stepfather, and mortgage holder. And behind that empty himbo stare is a lack of talent that is shocking even in an era in which style is valued over substance (not that he’s got all that much style, though, either). He simply does not appear to know how to behave like an actual adult male human being, or even how to fake it. At nearly 30 years old and the embodiment of superficial vacuousness, he’s the poster boy for how our culture has encouraged the extension of adolescence well past the point at which everyone should just grow the hell up. The multiple scenes in which his George attempts to “discipline” his stepchildren are so hilariously cringe-inducing that you can’t even liken them to a little kid trying to play at being grown up. I’ve heard more effective scolding out of the mouths of four-year-old girls chastising their dolls and teddy bears.

Melissa George (Down with Love, Mulholland Drive), who plays George’s wife, Kathy, also is laughably miscast as the mother of three kids, one of whom is 12 years old; she herself looks barely out of high school. But at least she has some acting ability that allows her to exude the appropriate maternal attitudes of frustration, anger, love, etc. Reynolds has no such fallback. George is supposed to be increasingly possessed by the evil spirit of the house, but Reynolds’s idea of what constitutes “acting” is to make his eyes goes wide in a goofy manner… that is, when he doesn’t simply let those bloodshot contacts do the job for him.

It’s enough to make you want to pick up an axe yourself and start swingin’.

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