‘Amityville: the Awakening’ is a Capable Thriller but Could Have Been So Much More

Amityville: The Awakening cover imageThe original Amityville Horror movie effectively terrified audiences forty years ago. The story of poltergeist activity terrorizing a family in an idyllic lakeside neighborhood has since spawned sequels, a remake, and now, four decades later, something is once again stirring at 112 Ocean ave.

The original 1979 movie, as well as the controversial 1977 book by Jay Anson on which it was based, both terrified me as a child so I was curious about this new one. Neither a remake, a reboot, nor a true sequel, Amityville: The Awakening is something else entirely. It is not the continuing story of the Lutz family, the focus of the original film and the 2005 remake, but instead treats the house, and its infamous red room, as a character all its own.

The Walker family moves into a new home in Amityville, Long Island to be closer to neurologist Dr. Milton who is treating the brain-dead James after he’s had an accident. His twin-sister Belle, her mother Joan, and little sister Juliet hope to start a new life while James hopefully recovers. Strange things begin happening, and after talking with some rather excited school friends Belle realizes she now lives in the infamous house where the DeFeo murders occurred, which spawned a horror franchise, as well as rumored demonic activity that very quickly overturns her life and threatens to tear her family apart.

This movie takes place in the “real world” in a self-aware fashion in the vein of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which is an interesting spin on the franchise that isn’t much more than a wasted gimmick, unfortunately. Instead of using this angle as meta-commentary on the controversies surrounding the book, its film “adaptation” and its many spin-offs, and the actual horrific events that took place at 112 Ocean Avenue, it is merely used as a plot device. This isn’t to say this is a bad thing, per se, just a disappointing waste of potential for a movie that could have been so much more than a simple scare-fest.

However, it does have its fair share of frights, most of which happen in the form of jump-scares instead of, in my opinion, the much more effective sense of foreboding or existential dread that the film under-utilizes. Another way in which Amityville: The Awakening could have been so much more had the filmmakers put in a little extra effort. It is a highly capable horror film none-the-less, and much better than I expected.

The cast is fantastic, especially Bella Thorne and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Thorne is an actress I have to admit I was not familiar with before this performance, but I will be keeping my eye out for her from now on. Her down-to-Earth Belle is a delight to watch, holding her own opposite the Academy Award nominee playing her mom. Leigh’s turn as the bereft, mood-swing taken mother is at times truly disturbing. She seems to revel in the role, as an actress who has lately been enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Cameron Monaghan is wonderfully madcap as James, especially once the red room takes ahold of him. Over-the-top yet never giving way to camp, he is a formidable foil for Thorne, at times terrifying and terrified, but always demanding sympathy for his un-forsaken plight.

Director Franck Khalfoun and Director of Photography Steven Poster give Amityville: The Awakening a moody, schizophrenic style befitting the story’s nature. The film has an almost claustrophobic atmosphere at times, giving the viewer a true sense of the mental isolation these characters feel due to their circumstances and surroundings.

While there were a few missed opportunities Amityville: The Awakening is an effective chiller, and an interesting new chapter in the story of one of the most infamous houses in film history.

Amityville: The Awakening is out today on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital HD, and On Demand.

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