[Review] ‘Amityville: The Awakening’ is a Fixer-Upper

What a tumultuous journey ‘Amityville: The Awakening’ has had.  After numerous push backs and delays the film is finally getting a release.  But even it’s release has been rather strange.  “Amityville” is currently available for free on Google Play (meaning you can watch it on YouTube legitimately) for a limited time.  Then on October 28th it’ll be released in select theaters.  With all these weird signs one might think “Amityville: The Awakening” isn’t very good.  Well . . .

In “Amityville: The Awakening” Belle (Bella Thorne) is dragged to a new home by her overbearing mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) along with her younger sister and severely disabled brother James (Cameron Monaghan).  Belle is mystified as to why the kids at her school treat her like a freak, until she realizes that the home she has moved into is the infamous Amityville house.  Soon a dark force begins to infest her brother and Belle must figure out how to save her family from a long history of tragedy.

“Amityville” has a decent premise and the story offers twists where characters reveal hidden motivations and provide decent conflict to drive the story in.  Unfortunately, a good framework is all this film has.  Characters enter the story and leave it just as abruptly without much fanfare or impact on the narrative.  For example, Kurtwood Smith plays James’ doctor and has one big moment in the film before quickly leaving and having little to do with the story afterwards.  It seems strange to get a strong actor like Kurtwood and regulate him to such a subpar plot point.

Then Belle makes two friends who may as well be named Exposition A&B.  One character is there to provide us background on the house and the other gives us background for Belle.  Beyond that they serve no significant purpose to the story. However, the frivolous story elements would be easy to overlook if the script felt strong elsewhere.

There are some severely cringey moments to be found in the dialog as well.  In one dramatic confrontation a character proclaims “Damn you to hell!” to which another character maniacally replies “Too late!” It’s incredibly melodramatic and that’s not the only instance of it.  It unfortunately creeps in to a few scenes that are meant to be touching or sincere and turns them into comical scenarios.  

In one scene James is asking Belle to kill him by using a monitor that displays words he’s able to type through thought.  So he’s repeatedly typing “Kill me. Please.”  And Belle is resistant at first, but after one more ‘please’ she quickly gives in.  What should be a gut wrenching moment for the audience turns into a pretty hilarious turnaround . 

The movie is strangely meta too with it’s handling of the previous “Amityville” films.  In this movie they acknowledged that not only does the book exist, but the original “Amityville” movie with Josh Brolin, ‘Amityville 2’, and the remake with Ryan Reynolds.  In one particular scene a character suggests watching ‘Amityville” inside of the house and the remake is brought up, other characters say no because remakes suck.  It’s such a surreal moment and its lack of subtlety makes it feel like the movie is sharply jabbing you in the ribs and going “Eh? Eh? You get it?”

To top it all off the movie just isn’t scary.  It relies heavily on the use of jump scares and they don’t feel well executed.  Scares are sometimes undersold without much dramatic build and when the big “boo” happens it comes quickly and ends before you’ve had a chance to react to it.  It also doesn’t help that a few scenes are spruced up with poor CGI.

So I know it sounds like I’m really hating on this movie, but I did enjoy parts of it.  When the movie does well it hits some good emotional notes.  The story about Belle and how James wound up disabled is touching.  There are sweet moments between Belle and her little sister.  And there’s a good reveal in the climax of the film that seemed potentially cool, but ultimately went nowhere. Even the premise of the film shows a lot of promise.  This is a movie that could have been a solid family horror film, which would be a perfect fit for the Amityville series.  It just doesn’t come together in enough ways.

I’m honestly surprised they didn’t just put this movie out in theaters.  Yes, it’s not great, but it’s certainly not any worse than other truly bad horror films I’ve seen in theaters.  Amityville isn’t as bad as you would expect based on its road to release, but it’s not as good as you would hope based on its legacy. See it while it’s free, it’s definitely worth a watch while you can see it so easily.

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