Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I Used To Sit And Talk With You

I know we're full-tilt into our Children of the Corn marathon and you're just dying to know what happens next, but first I think it's due time we catch up on the newest entry in last year's marathon, which got kicked around the schedule so much after it was filmed in 2014 that I was pretty well convinced it would never actually be released at all. I was wrong.

Year: 2017
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Cast: Bella Thorne, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mckenna Grace 
Run Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Previously on The Amityville Horror...

Following a trilogy of mediocre but increasingly entertaining films, the franchise goes nuts with a half dozen increasingly inane direct-to-video and TV movies, the best of which involve evil objects from the original house (keep an eye out for a haunted clock, a haunted floor lamp, and - my personal favorite - a haunted mirror), until it hits the mid-2000's and one truly egregious remake. Cue the rise of Redbox, when filmmakers realized the name "Amityville" wasn't copyrighted and churned out about a quarter million knock-offs that I couldn't bring myself to watch. 

Amityville: The Awakening is not quite a sequel, not quite a remake, but it's the first film in over a decade to even seem like a valid part of the franchise proper, whatever that even means. At the very least, it was picked up by Blumhouse, a for-real production company, and its weird half-stab at a meta angle reveals that they at least have the rights to mention and engage with the original Amityville entries. So I'll take it.

Do I have to, though?

So here we have Belle Walker (Bella Thorne), a surly teenager who has moved into a new Long Island home with her little sister Juliet (McKenna Grace), her mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and her brother James (Cameron Monaghan), who is wasting away in a coma he will probably never recover from. Wouldn't you know it, but the house they move into just happens to be the very same eyeball-windowed home where one Mssr. DeFeo shot up his family forty years ago. 

James' condition seems to improve almost immediately, but is he really getting better, or is his hollow shell of a body the perfect conduit for whatever demon/ghost/CGI blob wants to gain human form and wreak bloody havoc? I daresay it wouldn't be a spoiler to say that yes, it's totally a demon ghost thing. Bella wants to do what's best for James and mercy-kill him, but her super intense mother refuses to allow that to happen.

But it's a Jennifer Jason Leigh character. The descriptor "intense" can be assumed.

As I briefly touched on earlier, this film is aware of both the events of the Amityville murders and the film franchise that sprung from it, in a twist that is reminiscent of the other Blumhouse remake-quel The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Of course, it does almost nothing with this. The fact that the movies exist has exactly as much impact on the story as the fact that the original case happened in the first place. But we do get a scene of the requisite teen friends having an ill-advised slumber party to watch the original 1979 film in the living room of the actual Amityville house.

I'm suddenly having a bad acid flashback to last year's marathon.

But of course this goes nowhere. Nothing in the movie goes anywhere. Not even the character pictured above, who vanishes from the film along with a third, female friend (good riddance though, because he's a textbook example of a toxically annoying randy teen). All we get for the entire first 70 minutes of this features are dream sequence after dream sequence in an endless display of tired scare gags that are so dull and repetitive that they might as well be the cast of Cheers for how familiar and un-scary they are.

And I know the movie has been on the shelf since 2014, but it feels like the script has been sitting there since the mid-90's, especially as it concerns Bella Thorne's character. She wouldn't be out of place as one of Cher's classmates in Clueless, and her black lipstick with matched endless angstifying wear thin within seconds. The only human being in this movie with any sort of personality is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who's in just enough of the movie to make you feel like it's not a cameo but you still want way more. Sure, she's coasting, but JJL on autopilot is worth a hundred fake CGI scares.

Scarewise, at least the finale sequence has some tension to it (because that's the only time in the movie that anything is actually happening to our protagonist without her waking up in bed and shaking it off the millisecond the jump scare is over), as well as above-average special effects, but it's certainly not enough to recommend a movie that is this painfully lethargic. And none of it ever reaches the point of actively scary.

MAYBE it's scary if you remember that the little girl she's clutching also played Young Tonya Harding in last year's I, Tonya.

Amityville: The Awakening is like a horror film on Xanax. Everything is ground down into a gently monotonous sea with no highs or lows to speak of. Even the cinematography seems to reflect this, with the daylight scenes being just as grey and washed-out as the scenes set in the basement in the middle of the night. 

The film doesn't even feint at the potential to pick up on the original's theme of economic despair and update it for the health care struggles of the current time. Ditto the tossed-off line referencing Belle's trendily dark backstory involving revenge porn. But that's probably too much to ask for a movie that thinks exposition is a character reminding her own mother that she has a twin. 

Amityville: The Awakening isn't the worst of these (how could it be?), but it's definitely a waste of precious time and chock full of people both in front of and behind the camera who deserve a much better showcase of their talents. Or any showcase at all, because this is hardly a film, just a loose burlap sack of horror tropes that were already weathered and aged back when the original Amityville came out thirty-nine years ago.

TL;DR: Amityville: The Awakening isn't the worst film in the franchise by a long shot, but it's a weak entry that doesn't justify its return after twelve long years.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1094
Reviews In This Series
The Amityville Horror (Rosenberg, 1979)
Amityville II: The Possession (Damiani, 1982)
Amityville 3-D (Fleischer, 1983)
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (Stern, 1989)
The Amityville Curse (Berry, 1990)
Amityville 1992: It's About Time (Randel, 1992)
Amityville: A New Generation (Murlowski, 1993)
Amityville Dollhouse (White, 1996)
The Amityville Horror (Douglas, 2005)
Amityville: The Awakening (Khalfoun, 2017)

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