Mark Reviews Movies

Amityville: The Awakening


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Franck Khalfoun

Cast: Bella Thorne, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Cameron Monaghan, Mckenna Grace, Thomas Mann, Taylor Spreitler, Jennifer Morrison, Kurtwood Smith

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing horror violence and terror, suggestive images, brief language and thematic material)

Running Time: 1:25

Release Date: 10/28/17 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 26, 2017

Twice, Amityville: The Awakening suggests a different route the movie could have taken, which may not have resulted in a better movie but at least could have been more interesting than what we get here. Both of those possibilities involve the notion that pretty much everyone knows the story of a haunted house in Amityville, a neighborhood in Long Island.

There was a book, and there was a series of movies about the house, of which this movie is the latest installment. Writer/director Franck Khalfoun plays with the prevalence of this urban legend that became, in its own right, a minor pop-culture phenomenon. The fact that they're still making movies about the house—as misguided as those movies may be—is some evidence of the myth's staying power.

The family members that experience yet another haunting in the house have various levels of knowledge about its past. Belle (Bella Thorne), the family's teenage daughter, has no clue about it. Everyone at school knows, though, and they taunt and tease her about the fact that she's living in a place where a man murdered his family and, since then, where at least one family had their wits scared out of them on account of the evil presence that supposedly haunts the place.

Belle makes a couple of friends who are morbidly curious about the house. Terrence (Thomas Mann) has lived in the suburban village for his entire life, but he's never stepped foot inside that infamous house. What possibly could be a better way to christen his first experience in the place than by watching the original 1979 movie inspired by the alleged haunting? He suggests the sequel or the 2005 remake, but Belle and her other new friend Marissa (Taylor Spreitler) reject that latter option. After all, remakes are terrible. Unsurprisingly, they have no opinion on sequels that arrive almost four decades later.

There is some potential is this idea, since it means that the characters could be a step or two ahead of whatever game the spirit in the house is playing with the new inhabitants. They basically have a handbook for what's going to happen. Such an approach would require intelligent characters, though—ones who are capable of connecting what has happened to what is happening, while figuring out a way to counter the supernatural happenings. It's not as if Belle or anyone else here is overtly skeptical about the notion of the house being haunted. Nobody really seems to have an opinion either way. They simply let it all happen.

Belle is in the house because her mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) thought it would be good for her son and Belle's fraternal twin James (Cameron Monaghan), who has been in a coma for two years with no signs of recovery. There's a third kid, a young daughter named Juliet (Mckenna Grace), who is present here mainly to have traumatic things happen to her and to be put in peril during the climax.

James begins a miraculous recovery shortly after moving into the house, and Belle is suspicious. She accepts that her brother has been possessed by a demonic force, and at a certain point, she takes him off his life support system to end it. This, of course, seems about five steps too far, especially after just learning about the house's history and doing a minimal amount of research. Joan is mad at Belle for this, of course, although not as mad as she is when her daughter brings up the idea of allowing James to die.

Everything else will be painfully familiar to anyone who possesses even a passing knowledge of this sort of movie. Belle has allegedly terrifying visions of the old murders, which obviously turn out to be nightmares. Something crawls in bed with her, and it's just a dream. Someone walks into her bedroom with a shotgun, and it's just another dream. It keeps happening, and Belle is so passive a protagonist that she keeps allowing it to happen.

It's a series of routines within a routine formula, and the result is as tedious as it sounds. There is, though, the matter of that second suggested possibility for how this material could have gone differently. Basically, there's a character who knows about the haunting, believes it, and wants it to happen. This puts an intriguing spin on the relationship between the haunted and the haunter, but it doesn't come up until just before the climax is about to begin. That's about right: Amityville: The Awakening is a few decades late and much more than a dollar's worth of ideas short.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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