Review – Amityville: The Awakening

Finally, after a two and a half year long delay, the 18th entry in the Amityville Horror series is available to view for free on Google Play. While a limited theatrical release is scheduled in two weeks followed by the DVD launch, I have waited so long for this movie and I’m proud that I kept my integrity intact by not snooping for one of the many illegal streaming links on the internet. Apparently, this one leaked a long time ago, which is probably another reason why Amityville: The Awakening was delayed. There are many reasons from what I’ve heard – including re-shoots due to poor test screenings and a flawed ending – but through it all, my love for the ominous and haunting house never faulted. Hell, during the interim I even took a road trip two hours north to visit the real Amityville House on Ocean Ave where the DeFeo Murders took place in 1974. The release of Amityville: The Awakening is timely because it falls on the 40 year anniversary of the book by Jay Anson, which kickstarted the phenomenon that lead to the original 1979 movie, two theatrical sequels, five straight-to-VHS sequels, the 2005 remake starring Ryan Reynolds, and eight unofficial, low budget direct-to-DVD sequels. After all this time, after so many stories, was there any life left in this series? You’re about to find out, just as I did.

Amityville: The Awakening ignores all subsequent entries in the series and is a direct sequel to the original Amityville Horror of 1979. In Awakening, a struggling family moves into the infamous house on Ocean Ave in hopes of starting fresh. Though she’s aware of the dark history surrounding the house and its property, Joan (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh of ‘Weeds’) moves her twins, her youngest daughter, and the family dog into the three story mansion due to its location to a neurological doctor (played by Kurtwood Smith of ‘Malcolm in the Middle’). Two years prior, Joan’s son, James (played by Cameron Monaghan of ‘Gotham’), was injured in a tragic accident that left him brain dead and paralyzed. His twin, Belle (played by Bella Thorne of ‘Scream: The TV Series’), is the only one awake to the reality of the situation and often cares for her much younger sister, Juliet (played by McKenna Grace of ‘Once Upon A Time’). It isn’t long after the family move in that strange occurrences start taking place in the house at night. History is poised to repeat itself as an evil entity threatens the family and sets its sight on James and Belle. Thomas Mann, Taylor Spreitler, Jennifer Morrison and Kurtwood Smith also star in this new supernatural horror film from producers Jason Blum, Phillip Dawe, Daniel Farrands, Casey La Scala, Bob Weinstein and literally a dozen other people.

Since Amityville: The Awakening saw test screenings and leaked on the internet a long time ago, there are a lot of people claiming to have seen it already and are content to bash the Hell out of it. They give it the typical, “worst movie I’ve ever seen,” brandish and go out of their way to make sure you hate this movie before you’ve even seen it. I watched Amityville: The Awakening as soon as it became available on Google Play this morning and I have to say – you need to avoid the naysayers and see this one for yourself. Is this title going to end up on my favorites list? Of course not, but it’s far from the pile of garbage trolls are making it out to be. For starters, the haunting resumes almost immediately with the family pet – a beautiful German Sheppard – pawing at invisible objects on the floor, the staircase creaking on its own, and the uncomfortable appearances of swarms of flies. Many of these strange happenings are borrowed from previous Amityville movies and they make it quite apparent that the same entity from other entries and maybe even the grand and classical house itself have resumed their malicious means of maiming. Viewers are even treated to a few jump scares in the form of James’ demonic apparition, but when the young man codes (medical term for cardiopulmonary arrest) and comes back as a somewhat healthier, and more importantly – awake, version of himself, the gears switch to a possession story that’ll catch you off guard.

Another plus is writer/director Franck Khalfoun put a lot of effort into the script and story. Mixing a house haunting with a possession experience was already a clever way to keep the viewer on their toes, and it succeeded in keeping me interested the whole way through despite seeing that gradual plot progression coming a mile away. Khalfoun was able to sneak a few self-aware scenes into Amityville: The Awakening by incorporating the 40 year anniversary into some scenes shared between Belle (Thorne) and her two friends from school. Not only does a character show Belle a DVD copy of the original Amityville Horror, but the trio also make a big deal out of watching The Amityville Horror in the actual Amityville House. I got a big kick out of that. Though the film follows the typical format of character introduction, character development, and plot advancement during the day and haunting terror at night, I found that the two halves equaled a cohesive experience that had tidbits of mayhem added in at just the right time. Nightmares, flashbacks to the original murders, wallpaper peeling away to reveal bloodstains, and the inclusion of the mysterious Red Room as a quasi-secondary character kept Amityville: The Awakening from burning out. I don’t think Khalfoun ever intended this to be a flash-bang mash-up of Paranormal Activity and Poltergeist, so the style, tone, and slightly subdued atmosphere really worked here.

And it contains an ending that’s more brutal than most PG13 horror finales.

As soon as Joan (Leigh) starts waving around a shotgun for protection, I knew where the climax was heading. And Amityville: The Awakening contains a musical score that is oddly similar to the one used in the Scream movies. Dimension Films produced both pictures. Besides these two points, and the fact that I think I spotted a shadow that was probably a crew member moving in the background, this one was pretty polished and professional despite all the re-shoots. Boy, cinematographer Steven Poster and editor Patrick McMahon really had their work cut out of them here, but the painstaking process payed off in the end. Was Amityville: The Awakening worth the almost three year wait? I’m not sure, but I definitely enjoyed it more than I expected. It was produced well, features talented actors, and contains a large amount of the nostalgia that made previous entries in the series such big hits. Though, I will say that I think big Hollywood needs to leave this alone. I think independent film-makers need to leave this alone. Let this story and subplot end here – on a high note! Amityville: The Awakening has more to it than the rumors that you heard and it’s certainly worth the price of a VOD stream, which is coming along with the DVD release in November. Check it out then.

Final Score: 6.5 out of 10.

Written by Michael DeFellipo

(Senior Editor)

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