Studio: Camp Motion Pictures
Director: Henrique Couto
Writer: Ira Gansler, Henrique Couto
Producer: Eric Widing
Stars: Julia Gomez, Josh Miller, Allison Egan, Alia Gabrielle Eckhardt, Joni Durian, Michael William Ralston, Ira Gansler
Four friends helping a student record a thesis project on fear venture into the reportedly haunted woods of Amityville.
A big relief for microbudget horror filmmakers must be that by now, the bar is so low for both “found footage” and anything with the word “Amityville” that jaded audiences simply anticipate disappointment from the start. “Halfway decent” may as well be 10/10 when graded on a curve, given how poorly peers usually score in these categories.
Plus, The Asylum already put out an awful “found footage” Amityville film with “The Amityville Haunting” (review here) in 2011. So even if you combine the two conceits and still tank, at least you only risk bottoming out as the second-worst Amityville movie in a first-person format, no matter how bad it gets.
And things do get bad for “Amityville: No Escape.” But maybe the preface above explains why there are nevertheless small things worth appreciating about the effort, since expectations shouldn’t be set above middling anyway.
With two strikes against it before the runtime starts rolling, mediocre is the best the film can hope for. “No Escape” gets partway there too, though not the full halfway required to make faults more forgivable.
The first foot forward follows traditional “Blair Witch Project” formula. Text explains that recovered footage documents two separate, yet presumably related, Amityville incidents from 1997 and 2016. Amusingly, the description ends with a disclaimer that the footage was given its “Amityville: No Escape” moniker “for marketing purposes.” It’s unclear what need police evidence would have for PR, but the sentiment earns a chuckle.
A college student who identifies himself as George Harrison, although end credits call him George Wells, is recording a thesis project examining personal fears. With his girlfriend Sarah, sister Elizabeth, cameraman Simon, and Simon’s friend Lisa, the group plans to camp in the reportedly haunted woods of Amityville, where the setting is supposed to heighten how everyone will discuss what scares them.
Amityville’s reputation for curses begins and ends with one haunted house story that has since been debunked. How that extends to ghosts in a forest I have no idea. But I’ll also never understand how it is that folks in these movies, often the ones moving into the house itself, have never heard of “The Amityville Horror” before.
Such is the case with Lina. On the 1997 timeline, Lina moves into the infamous address none the wiser about its horrible history. Her military husband is away on deployment, so Lina records video diaries documenting the new house he will eventually come home to.
She also records videos of herself doing aerobics, among other odd activities. The thing of it is, actress Julia Gomez has an infectious amount of extroverted pep that sells these scenes as being less silly than they actually are. Her energetic chattiness works to give Lina a personality that is almost annoying, but is really rather sweet.
Almost as unexpectedly, Gomez handles the switch to a melancholy mood with equally convincing command. There is good work here from an unknown actress working off a script that obviously isn’t Meryl Streep material. If someone could wrangle her away from uttering “uhm” after every other sentence, and take her tone down about two notches, Gomez might be capable of a truly striking performance under other circumstances.
Co-writer Ira Gansler on the other hand, isn’t so hot in his appearance as a weirdo woodsman encountered by the camping quintet. A clear imbalance in acting ability swings between both sides of the spectrum, although the core group is adequate enough for the most part.
As the movie rolls on, lapses in logic start getting the better of a story that isn’t strong to begin with. A cameraman comes back to camp claiming to have seen a ghost girl, yet no one once considers reviewing his recording to see it for themselves. A dopier bit comes when, while lost in the woods long after bodies start dropping, someone suddenly remembers, “oh yeah, I brought a radio with me, let’s call for help!”
Because the two timelines don’t connect until the final frame, intercutting back and forth makes no noticeable narrative sense. The camera is often set on auto as well, including focus and exposure. Some scenes have blown out skies and images so muddied that details wash away.
“Amityville: No Escape” may not be a “good” movie, yet cast and crew deserve due credit. Complain all you want, justifiably so, about the setup being derivative, production quality being poor, and scares being schlocky. But they made a movie that required filming at night, being outside, shooting in cars, even being period accurate with 1997 sequences using a 4:3 camcorder and “Sleepless in Seattle” wardrobe. That might not sound like overwhelming commitment, but that’s more than many micro-movies do. At least “Amityville: No Escape” does something.
Not only that, someone was wise enough to exploit a tenuous Amityville connection, undoubtedly the edge that drummed up distribution. Without it, “Amityville: No Escape” would be just another forgotten “found footage” film about being lost in haunted woods.
Review Score: 40