After the climactic events of Amityville: The Awakening, no less than the 12th (!) movie to bear the Amityville name, a rugged voiceover comes on the screen and explains to the audience what we’ve just seen.
Clearly, something went wrong here.
Three years after production wrapped, The Awakening is finally hitting cinemas worldwide, after numerous release date delays and reported reshoots.
The result is an unabashed mess that includes a fine premise, some genuinely effective horror movie atmosphere, CGI-infused dream sequence jump scares, storylines that go nowhere and characters who go missing, and a deeply unsatisfying finale, all choppily hacked together.
Behind the film is director Franck Khalfoun, who previously made the deeply unsettling first-person remake of Maniac, and displays a real talent for crafting effectively creepy horror movie sequences that don’t always (but far too often) end with a jump scare.
You know the drill: a new family moves into the house at 112 Ocean Avenue where, in real life, Ronald DeFeo murdered his family in 1974, and some very bad things soon start to occur.
The family here is mom Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), 17-year-old daughter Belle (Bella Thorne), young Juliet (Mckenna Grace)… and Belle’s comatose, braindead, skeletal twin brother James (Cameron Monaghan) who begins to show activity of life shortly after moving into the death house.
That’s part of The Awakening’s interesting spin on things; the other part is that the film takes place in a world where all previous incarnations of this story are well-known, from the book by Jay Anson based on the controversial story of the Lutzes to the 1979 film starring James Brolin (and its sequel) up through the 2006 Ryan Reynolds remake.
One of this Amityville’s creepiest sequences is when Belle and a pair of new friends (played by Thomas Mann and Taylor Spreitler) get together in the house to watch the original movie at 3:15 (the alleged time of the murders), the power goes out, they wander the basement in search of a fuse box, and…
The murders were real, and the claims of the Lutzes (while widely debunked) were popularized, and the DeFeo house is still out there in Amityville at 112 Ocean Avenue, presumably with a new resident. That’s inherently… a little spooky, and this film capitalizes on it’s real-world connection.
Employing some of the same techniques he used in that Maniac, Khalfoun utilizes long tracking shots (from Donnie Darko cinematographer Steven Poster) that canvas the entirety of the house, and for every unnecessary “boo!” moment (and there are many) there are genuinely effective sequences where the filmmaker creates tension through open doors and dark shadows and dead spaces on the screen.
And despite the chilly mood and dreamlike atmosphere, there’s a silly ending that does exactly what was advertised (we keep expecting some kind of twist) followed by a tacked-on epilogue that spells things out: yes, what you just saw did indeed really happen.
There’s clearly some good work here, and Amityville: The Awakening may have been a better film at one point. But in it’s current form, possibly under the direction of hands-on producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, it’s a mostly unsatisfying experience.