Studio: Dimension Films
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Writer: Franck Khalfoun
Producer: Jason Blum, Daniel Farrands, Casey La Scala
Stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bella Thorne, Cameron Monaghan, Thomas Mann, Jennifer Morrison, Kurtwood Smith, Taylor Spreitler, McKenna Grace
A teenage girl suspects her comatose brother is possessed by evil after their mother moves them into the Amityville house.
The Amityville brand, such as it is, hasn’t been worth a whole lot in recent years. Many filmgoers may not know that anyone with a nickel and an iPhone can make a movie with the word ‘Amityville’ in its title, as only “The Amityville Horror” specifically is copyrighted while the Long Island village’s name is fair game.
Microbudget producers looking to turn a quick buck picked up on this “loophole” a long time ago. Thus, the DTV horror world has been slapped, smothered, and choked by a glut of cheap knockoffs, amateur indies, and flat-out rubbish connected to Amityville by name, but not to a formal franchise. By doing so, this tripe essentially turned the Amityville title into mud.
So with cautious optimism, former Amityville film fans hopeful for a return to bigger budget form took it as mostly good news in 2011, when Dimension Films and Miramax announced plans for a “found footage” film titled “The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes.” Sure, the first-person frame was already passé, but at least higher Hollywood was apparently interested in building a real property out of Amityville once again.
Later that year, “The Lost Tapes” went off the schedule shortly after principal photography was slated to start. Jason Blum became involved, development continued, and eventually, December 2012 saw the release date officially changed to January 2014.
By 2013, plans to have Casey La Scala and Daniel Farrands direct the “found footage” film turned into plans to have David Bruckner and Nicholas Tecosky direct a “mixed media” movie. Dimension shortened the title to simply “Amityville” and reset the release date to January 2015.
Whether it could still be considered the same project or something entirely different, the joint Dimension and Blumhouse production finally came together as “Amityville: The Awakening” in 2014, with Franck Khalfoun aboard as director and actual shooting finally commencing. A trailer came out that August, only to be followed by a September announcement that the film had been pulled from its planned release date yet again.
May 2015 saw a new promise of “Amityville: The Awakening,” which was now a finished film, arriving in theaters in April 2016. Guess what happened when 2016 came around? Dimension and The Weinstein Co. decided to hit the hot winter horror window by pushing the film to January 2017. Before 2016 finished however, that winter window would move once more to summer 2017. I don’t recall anyone noticing, let alone caring at this point, when that summer 2017 theatrical release became an October 2017 VOD dump and accompanying home video retail launch one month later.
If that convoluted development, production, and distribution history isn’t enough of an indicator that “Amityville: The Awakening” was “troubled” to say the least, here’s another sure-fire sign. 18 executive producers are credited across five title cards ranging from one to seven names on each, indicating at least five separate parties invested in the product over the course of its creation.
All those people, all that time, and what did the effort ultimately concoct? A basic, by-the-numbers retread of Amityville tropes and classic chiller clichés in milquetoast movie form. This “official” entry in the Amityville series looks nicer than the previously mentioned DTV detritus, but its entertainment value is lamentably even.
With closer proximity to her sister as well as a special neurological hospital adding incentive, Joan Walker moves into the infamous Amityville house to care for her crippled and comatose son James. While Joan fights to find some sign of life in the bedridden boy, Jennifer Jason Leigh fights to put some sort of pulse into a fairly flat single mom stereotype.
Joining Joan is her youngest daughter Juliet, who soon starts speaking to an unseen entity in typical creepy kid fashion, and Joan’s pouty goth daughter Belle (Bella Thorne), who blames herself for her twin brother’s condition. Kurtwood Smith also appears as James’ doctor in two (maybe three) brief scenes of little consequence. Same goes for Jennifer Morrison as Joan’s sister, whose purpose in the plot is to strangely accompany each doctor visit before weirdly showing up to the house at 3:15am for a frightful fate.
Interestingly, “Amityville: The Awakening” takes place in a world where the 1979 movie, its 1982 sequel/prequel, and the 2005 remake exist, as Belle and her convenient new school chums discuss the cool factor of watching the movie inside the actual house and then do it. The Lutzes are still conspicuously never mentioned, only Ronald DeFeo, probably for some sort of legal reason.
The movie doesn’t do anything novel with this meta element though. It works more as a mere wink to take a poo-pooing jab at remakes or to run down a shortcut so Belle can quickly get up to speed on the home’s haunted history.
The only other element keeping the film from completely copying off of the Amityville template is a twist regarding what someone really knows about the house. By then it is too little, too late however. “Amityville: The Awakening” builds its bulk from the usual foundation of an unsuspecting family getting a great deal on the property, not everyone knowing about the murders, someone seemingly becoming possessed, etc. When something unique is finally introduced, it isn’t afforded nearly enough attention.
Disappointingly, usually creative filmmaker Franck Khalfoun is guilty of loading up on routine jump scares featuring demonic reflections in a mirror or a dog bursting unexpectedly through a door. Spaces between those bits and exposition are occupied by a lot of Bella Thorne creeping around in darkness, including one scene of her doing so in lacey pink underwear to be additionally pandering to low level appeal.
Perhaps six years, five directors, 18 executive producers, and who knows how many drafts were at least one short on all accounts for finally breaking new ground in Amityville. Working with a small idea for what is traditionally a big evil, the low stakes of “Amityville: The Awakening” are too contained to pack real power. Franck Khalfoun, Jason Blum, and the other talent in front of and behind the camera are capable of so much more than this movie listlessly delivers.
Review Score: 40