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The one true test of a good horror movie is its ability to scare you, regardless of how old you may be or how many horror flicks you’ve seen over the years. Despite being a remake, The Amityville Horror succeeds not only as a movie that’s able to scare the bejeezus of you, but also as an all around well done film.
Based on the 1979 film of the same name (and the novel that depicts the proclaimed “true events”) The Amityville Horror tells the story of a haunted house and the effect it has on the people who live within. The first people we see, the DeFeo family, are at the end of their time in the house. They have lived within the doors of “High Hopes” for twenty eight days when we join them, twenty eight days which have taken their toll on eldest son Ronald DeFeo. Ronald, through a spooky montage of shots, proceeds to move through the house and kill his family in their sleep, all except his youngest sister Jodie who has awakened and is hiding in the closet. Declaring his love for his sister, he executes her as well, and we are treated to a sequence of police and news reports, bringing us up to speed on the events that happened after the Amityville murders, as Ronald claims he was possessed and saw his family as demons which voices told him to kill.
A year later a new family moves into High Hopes – one with enough troubles without difficulties of a possessed home. George (Ryan Reynolds) and Melissa Lutz (Melissa George) are recently married, and George is having a bit of a time convincing Melissa’s kids that he’s not a bad guy and that it’s okay for them to miss their departed father. Even as soon as their first day in the Amityville home odd occurrences start to happen. Over the next few weeks George starts acting darker and haggard, daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) makes a new “invisible” friend named Jodie, and Melissa realizes there may be something evil within her new home. As day twenty-eight gets closer and closer, Melissa tries to discover the secret behind her house and save her family from the evil forces at work in her living room.
The trend in modern day horror films is to toss a few currently popular faces in and shoot for a PG-13 rating, thus attracting the teenage crowd. Unfortunately nine times out of ten what you end up with is a mindless, poorly acted story that was hastily thrown together in an attempt to win one box office weekend for the studio (a trend that has been backfiring as of late by the way). I’m glad to say that The Amityville Horror doesn’t fall into any of these traps, and that just about every step is as solid as you can get. From script to screen, director Andrew Douglas and producer Michael Bay make all the right decisions, and the first was to avoid the PG-13 rating and go straight for an “R”. Now, this isn’t a hard “R” picture. There aren’t rivers of blood or tons of nakedness, but it is definitely worthy of its rating, if only for the scarier moments of the film.
The other choice Douglas and Bay stick to is to keep everything related to the story. Like most horror films, The Amityville Horror has startling moments designed to keep its audience on the edge of their seats. However, there are no errant cats thrown in just for a surprise here. Every little “gotcha” moment is true to the story, not only building the tension of the film, but also adding to the horror of the total situation. It’s a magnificent choice that many other modern movies could learn from.
Ryan Reynolds has to carry a lot of the movie’s weight. If we don’t believe he’s slowly coming apart at the seams, the entire plot is ruined. Fortunately, he is more than up to the task. Evoking a bit of James Brolin (who starred in the original) and a lot of Jason Lee (enough that I thought Lee was starring in this when I saw the initial trailer), Reynolds plays a very real character. In the beginning of the film his actions are natural. If you’ve ever seen a man trying to make peace and act as a friend to his step kids there’s a certain feel to it - maybe the awkwardness of the situation. Reynolds captures that feeling perfectly, which makes it all the harder to watch his character fall apart. Reynolds conveys more emotion with his eyes than most of today’s popular television actors who are typically thrown in these movies communicate in their entire careers, and he does it with a passion and intensity that makes you feel desperately sorry for whatever his character is going through. It’s a transformation akin to Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance (The Shining) and if Reynolds can show that sort of range and emotion in a horror film, imagine what he could accomplish as a dramatic actor.
Reynolds doesn’t stand alone in the acting category though. Almost all of the performances are worthy of note, particularly the children who (for the most part) avoid being precocious. One of the younger actresses specifically deserves a mention - , Isabel Conner, whose ghost character Jodie is creepy enough to give The Ring’s little girl a run for her money. It’s not just the makeup either. One of Conner's sorrowful smiles is on par with Reynolds' eyes. If you’re any sort of red blooded male though, you won’t be able to miss Rachel Nichols’ performance as Lisa the baby-sitter. Lisa becomes the worst baby-sitter ever captured on film as she reveals the house’s history to the Lutz children, but damn if she isn’t hot while she’s doing it.
One of the major concerns I had going into Amityville was its running time. At just over an hour and a half I was worried the movie would feel rushed or too short. Instead it feels just right, setting a pace fast enough to keep the audience from getting bored, but slow enough that you can easily track what’s going on in the important parts of the story. Unlike the last horror remake Michael Bay produced, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this film actually manages to improve on its source material... of course, the original Amityville Horror wasn’t exactly a work of art. Bay and Douglas have done well with this remake, staying respectful to the original material while making the right changes to turn this remake into a more solid picture as a whole. They’ve structured their version as a true piece of rated-R horror: a film that keeps you in suspense on the edge of your seat, and then pushes you off when it can get away with it.