Script calamity sidelines ‘Amityville’

I hadn’t seen the original “Amityville Horror,” and therefore had no basis for comparison when I viewed the remake of the same name. Apparently the original is a horror classic, whereas the new one is bad and almost entirely forgettable. The characters are shallow and undeveloped, the writing is uninspired and often laughable, and the characters all seem to accept the fact that they’re hallucinating without batting an eye. In spite of its general crappiness, however, the film had enough bells and whistles to keep me entertained for the entirety of its running time.

“The Amityville Horror” tells the story of a three-child family with a new stepfather. George and Kathy Lutz (Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George) are thrilled when they purchase a beautiful, old Dutch home in Amityville. Unfortunately it was the site of a grisly sextuple murder, perpetrated by the 23-year-old son of the family that lived there. Sure enough, a bunch of ghosts start showing up doing scary things and turning the kind-hearted George evil. Incidentally, this is very refreshing. Ghost stories these days all seem to involve omnipotent ghosts that can do anything (for example, “The Ring,” or “The Grudge”). It’s nice to see a movie where the ghosts have to abide by traditional rules and resort to psychologically tormenting people.

In spite of being bad, this film actually has many strengths. The first is its pacing. The movie moves along at a brisk clip, which keeps the audience from focusing too heavily on any of its flaws. It moves so fast, in fact, that some parts of the film that seem intended to scare come off as comical. The quickness with which things are revealed lends an air of absurdity to the film, which makes it a lot of fun to see what’s coming next. It’s almost as though someone highly placed on the production team was secretly making a comedy and calling it a horror.

While the characters in this script are cardboard cut-outs, it seems as though the director took great pains to develop them in interesting ways. The real estate agent who sells the house to the Lutzes in the beginning is a stock character in horror films; she nervously tries to gloss over the house’s unpleasant history. The way the character is handled by director Andrew Douglas interesting and thoughtful, however. Through his sure-footed direction, this real estate agent is shown to be terrified of the house, desperate to unload it on the unsuspecting Lutzes, and wracked with guilt for doing so. This creative handling of the bad script leads to some delightful surprises as the movie goes on. The film is also well cast, with each actor competently trying to compensate for how crappy the script is.

The overall look of the film is quite attractive as well. The colors are stark and grainy, which leads to a bleak feeling that complements the film’s subject matter nicely. The house is photographed lovingly in every nook and cranny, from the basement to the roof. By the end of the film, the attentive audience member will have a very good idea of the house’s layout, which will contribute to the enjoyment of the final chase scene. Shots of the house are also cut into dialogue scenes, giving the eerie effect that the house is a character watching the conversation.

The new “Amityville Horror” could not have been a great horror film; the script is poop. However, it is pulled off extremely cleverly by Douglas and his cast and crew. There is no element in the film that is irritatingly bad, and there are several that are actually pretty cool. It’s worth a look if you like horror.