One of the most famous horror films of the 1970's, the original "The Amityville Horror" is known more for the fact that it's based on a real ghost story than anything else. The actual film itself however has not aged gracefully, and is regarded by many amateur critics as cheesy and cheap. Now comes the modern remake of the story with better production values and budget, not to mention a much darker sense of horror. Is it a better movie? Most definitely. How does it compare with other horror movies though of late is the big question.
The good news is after several months of crap efforts ranging from "Boogeyman" to "The Ring Two", "Amityville" at last gives horror fans something to enjoy, but it's not a classic of the genre or in the league of other recent strong remakes like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "Dawn of the Dead". It may go overboard on the MTV editing, but otherwise this is a generally creepy ghost story involving a small number of well-played characters and more than a few 'jump in your seat' moments ranging from quick edits to ghostly figures of little girls, dead Indians and even a killer priest.
Part of what makes it work is its unabashed desire to go dark. This is an R-rated film to be sure with lots of blood and creepy horror in a very Dark Castle style vein, but the story feels more grounded in reality - as demonstrated by the shocking opening five minutes. I think a lot of that has to do with a focus not just on the supernatural elements but more real dangers ranging from the father's slide towards madness to the film's best suspense sequence involving a girl walking perilously across a rooftop. There's also the odd morbid laugh to break things up which helps.
As the film's key player, Ryan Reynolds delivers a solid performance that finally gets to show off a more dramatic range than we've previously seen him in. Still armed with his huge drool-inducing muscles earned during the making of "Blade: Trinity" (and bulging in all the right places as usual), along with some assorted creepy contact lenses, he makes Lutz's slow descent into insanity the most interesting element of the film - even more so than the ghost story as such.
He's ably supported by Aussie actress Melissa George who shows off both the soft and assertive action sides that she displayed well in TV's "Alias". The assorted kids are fine, along with Philip Baker Hall as a priest and Rachel Nichols as a rather stunning looking babysitter. These are hardly challenging supporting roles, more just reactionary than anything else, but the cast handle the job fine - especially the kids who for once in these kind of movies are welcome rather than being a burden.
Where does it fall down? Whilst the directing is decent, the editing is a choppy affair. As a very self contained story, there's little to explore and whilst many scenes kind of feel they went on too long, quite a few elements feel like they were barely touched. The back history of the reasons behind the hauntings is brought up for a few minutes but never gone into detail and when it does come up with the so-called 'lead bad spookie', it almost feels like it's from a whole other film.
Much of the spooks and scares essentially are an exercise in sound and fury rather than actual terror, a sign of the director's commercial background. In fact much of the problems with the movie revolve around it's desire to do bigger and badder scares than properly exploring what actually happened in real life. Many times it has the chance to build tension or head into somewhat more disturbing psychological terror and instead opts for popcorn-audience thrills.
The result is something that may essentially be more entertaining but ultimately forgettable even if there is a few really good moments of squirm inducing chills that are worth a few good jumps much like last year's "The Grudge" remake. The production values are pretty much up to par with haunting cinematography and a moody score, but the effects range from interesting to oddly clunky at times. As remakes go it isn't half bad, as this genre goes it's the best we've seen in months.