A single mother moves her three children into a haunted house, unaware of its bloody history.
I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s watching the original Amityville trilogy, “The Amityville Horror,” “Amityville II: The Possession,” and “Amityville 3-D.” Out of the three, Amityville II was my personal favorite. Part 1 was cheesy and never held up very well over the years and part 3 was made just to cash in on the 3-D craze of the early-to-mid ’80s but part 2 was legitimately creepy, with some first-rate performances, especially that of Jack Magner who played Sonny, the film’s protagonist and antagonist. It had a haunting score by Lalo Schifrin and Damiano Damiani did an outstanding job with his directorial vision, delivering some authentic scares and terrific demonic creature effects. I saw some of the later Amityville features, which all went straight to VHS and later DVD and they’re not even worth mentioning, they were made just to cash in on the Amityville name.
The trailer for “Amityville: The Awakening” piqued my curiosity as it very much had a vibe reminiscent of “Amityville II: The Possession” and with a good cast attached, including Bella Thorne, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jennifer Morrison, and Kurtwood Smith, I figured it might elevate the bar for new Amityville features to come. While the first half of the movie does indeed deliver, the last act falls into conventional territory and as a result, sadly, it sinks the entire film.
Belle (Bella Thorne), her mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), younger sister Juliet (Mckenna Grace), and their comatose, bed-ridden brother James (Cameron Monaghan), have just moved into their new house in Amityville, New York. In the beginning, everything is fine but over time, both Belle and Juliet begin to experience creepy phenomenon within the house. At school, Belle makes friends with Terrence (Thomas Mann) and Marissa (Taylor Spreitler) who proceed to enlighten her about her new house’s history. In a stroke of genius, the movie actually acknowledges that the events of the first Amityville trilogy were only films and at one point, the trio even sits down to watch “The Amityville Horror.” And through this sitting, Belle witnesses James Brolin’s character tearing down a wall in the basement which is said to house the evil spirits. She follows suit, knocks down the wall and all hell breaks loose. James, who has been comatose from an accident years earlier, is suddenly able to open his eyes and communicate via a brain-computer interface and warns Belle to get out. She refuses to leave her family and as nightfall approaches, James, having been possessed by a spirit, is able to get to his feet, grabs a shotgun, and proceeds to make his way around the house, with the sole intent of killing everyone in it, just like Ronald DeFeo Jr. did to his entire family in 1974.
“Amityville: The Awakening” starts out with great promise. Director Franck Khalfoun successfully begins his movie slowly, quietly building the tension and creep factor but about halfway through, it feels like he runs out of ideas and the last act succumbs to the quintessential fear factor and lazy scares seen in so many other features of its ilk. Bella Thorne mopes around the entire film wearing her goth outfit and it gets old very quickly. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jennifer Morrison, and Kurtwood Smith all pop up in supporting roles and the movie comes to life, literally and figuratively, when they appear but it’s very difficult to relate to a Belle, the film’s supposed heroine, a teenager who seems more interested in her own well-being than nobody else’s. “Amityville: The Awakening” is leaps and bounds better than most of the other straight-to-DVD Amityville titles available in the marketplace and if this is the beginning of a new chapter in the series, it’s off to a pretty good start, just not a great one.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD and VOD November 14th