“Your typical haunted house & possession film, that does just enough to pass class”
The Story (From Wikipedia.com)
At 3:15 AM on November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family at their house at 412 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. He claimed that he was persuaded to kill them by voices he heard in the house.
One year later, a married couple George and Kathy Lutz move into the house along with Kathy’s three children from a previous marriage, Billy, Michael, and Chelsea. The family soon begins experiencing paranormal events in the house. Chelsea claims that she has befriended a girl named Jodie, a name belonging to one of the murdered DeFeo children.
One night the couple decide to go out, and they hire a babysitter to watch the three kids.
When the babysitter, Lisa, arrives, they come to find out that she had previously been hired to babysit for the DeFeo’s. Lisa tells them about the murders that took place in their house. When she goes to Chelsea’s room, Chelsea tells her that she is a bad babysitter, claiming that Jodie told her so. Lisa begins to scold Jodie for being the reason behind her getting fired. Then Billy dares Lisa to go inside the closet (the same closet where Jodie was murdered), and she gets locked inside. After a few seconds, she encounters Jodie herself and begs to be let out. She goes into shock and the paramedics arrive to take her away; on the way to the hospital, Lisa tells Kathy that she had seen Jodie.
George’s behavior towards Kathy and her children becomes abusive and the paranormal activity continues. One night, George hears Harry (the dog) barking in the boathouse. Seemingly possessed, he grabs an axe and proceeds to murder the family dog. The children look for Harry the next day, with George denying he knows where he is, despite Billy’s suspicions.
Kathy asks the priest Father Callaway (Philip Baker Hall) to bless the house, as a protective measure to prevent any future paranormal incidents, but Father Callaway flees the house when he encounters such occurrences himself. Kathy discovers that the house once belonged to a cult preacher named Reverend Jeremiah Ketcham, whose evil actions towards American Indians during his “mission” in 17th-century Amityville are said to be the cause of the haunting. Meanwhile, George, as he is walking through the basement of the house, encounters the apparitions of the various American Indians who were tortured and killed there by Ketcham centuries ago. Entering a dimly-lit room, George encounters Ketcham himself (though he is not aware of who he is), and the ghostly figure of the evil missionary turns around, picks up a knife, and slits his throat in an act of recreating his suicide, covering George with blood, and causing him to become nearly completely possessed.
Kathy becomes convinced that George’s abusive behavior is owed to a spiritual possession. Following urgent advice from Father Callaway, Kathy tries to evacuate her children from the house and escort them to safety, but the possessed George attempts to kill her and the children; Kathy knocks him out to prevent him from doing so and transports him away from the residence. Subsequently, George is released from the spirit’s control and the family permanently leaves the house. A title card states that the family left within 28 days of arriving and never returned. Jodie is shown standing in the now-empty house and screaming in terror while the house rearranges itself back to its original state before the family’s arrival. Subsequently, she is pulled beneath the floor by a pair of disembodied hands.
Firstly, this film starts off with an absolutely brutal and unforgiving opening. DeFeo Jr walking systematically from room to room, slaughtering his family members with a lever action rifle while using the cover of a thunderstorm, tells you right from the start that this film is going to hold nothing back. While the killings of his parents and brothers are horrid, it’s the scene in which he kills his little sister I found the most disturbing. Watching DeFeo Jr fight back tears as he tells Jodie that he loves her before putting a round into her skull makes for an extremely dark introduction which the remainder of the film is sadly never able to rise back up to. A classic case of a film blowing its load too early.
Our introduction to the Lutz family is quite well done, making the children especially sympathetic characters due to us quickly learning of them losing their father at such a young age. Something this film accomplishes early on that many past films I’ve recently watched have failed to do is present characters you like and care about. The dynamic between George and his step-children still finding their footing in their new relationship is interesting and holds on to your attention for the early segments of the film.
The first issue I encountered while watching this movie was how quickly George goes from fun and goofy step-dad trying to win over his new step-children, to cold and cruel. While the film was trying to portray how this new home and it’s dark energy was changing George, that change was carried out way too quick and jarring. We had only known George for roughly ten-ish minutes before this attitude adjustment took place and it feels incredibly unnatural and clunky, I would have liked to see the change take place a lot more slowly and subtly.
Like nearly all American horror films from the 2000s, almost all the scares presented here are carried out in the form of jump-scares and sudden loud noises. While this works quite well the first few handful of times, it quickly becomes stale. If a character is walking alone through the house, you already know it’s coming. The best scare of the film for me comes when Michael goes by himself to use the bathroom down the hall late at night. The absence of any sound at all, only the creaking of the floor, took me right back to being a child myself when you have to get off the bed but are deathly afraid of the dark. Michael looking in the mirror after washing his hands to see nothing while we as the viewer are the only one who can see the blood-spitting monster next to him was a nice change of pace and stuck out to me the most.
The acting here from everyone was pretty good, even from the child actors who portrayed Billy, Michael, and Chelsea. Ryan Reynolds who portrays George here had the heaviest load having to show his character losing his mind over time, but Reynolds of course nails it. Something else Reynolds performs quite well is how distance is tied to his character’s attitude. During the few breaks in the film where George leaves the home and goes out to dinner or to see a doctor, he’s immediately relieved of all his negativity and violent urges.
One particular section of the film I felt was disturbing (in a genuinely bad way) was the introduction of Lisa, the babysitter. Lisa is only in the movie for a few minutes, but she spends that time flirting with Billy, a character in the film who is supposed to be twelve years old. While his actor appears to be a number of years older than that, it still comes off as genuinely revolting. If this scene had been reversed, with a seventeen or eighteen year old male babysitter flirting with a twelve year old girl, I would imagine the film creators would have been told to cut it. The whole section feels very unneeded and just gross.
Touching on that, the entrance of the Lisa character does lead to possibly the greatest scene of the whole film where, once locked in a closet with the spirit of Jodie, the Jodie ghost forces Lisa’s finger deep inside her foreheads bullet hole, which is partnered with some gross matching sounds. This is a scene that makes you squirm in a good way (unlike the weird pedophile scene earlier) and is something I’ll remember for quite some time.
Around this point about 70% of the way through the film, you begin picking up on how tired George is becoming, especially due to his horribly bloodshot eyes. Unlike his attitude which I mentioned earlier changes way too rapidly, the physical appearance of George changing quite subtly over the course of the film really helps to sell the possession aspect of the story. I also appreciated how during the very end stages of the film and during the final Chase sequence, George’s eyes appear to be almost completely black, signifying the final stages of the possession.
Just before the final chase sequence of the film though there is a small scene In which Katie receives the help of a local Catholic priest in blessing the home. Just after throwing some holy water down, the priest decides to peek inside of a vent causing a swarm of bugs to pelt his face. Immediately after this, a demonic voice whispers “get out”, causing the priest to leave the home in a panic. I found this scene to be extremely cheesy, in a bad way. The entirety of this film keeps a very realistic and grounded approach which surprised me as to how cartoonist this scene came across. Nothing movie ruining at all, but definitely could have been left out.
The final chase sequence of this film is very tense, especially in part due to the heavy rain occurring and the lightning storm, mirroring the night that the DeFeo Jr murdered his family a year prior. The constant flashes of lightning are quite disorienting for the viewer, which really helps put us in the mindset of what Katie and the children are experiencing. Ryan Reynolds absolutely knocks it out of the park, bringing some extreme physicality to the sequence, especially when he physically bashes his way out of the basement.
There is one last scene which I felt was quite unneeded where, after Katie hits George in the head with the butt of a shotgun knocking him unconscious, we see him rise back up, stabbing Katie in the stomach and seemingly killing her. Immediately upon this, George wakes up a second time in the same spot, revealing that killing Katie was merely a dream. While there are one or two prior cases of George dreaming, neither one of them attempted to trick the viewer, this however just like the strange priest segment of the film felt entirely unneeded and may have been added in just to pad out some of the film’s runtime.
The entire Lutz family leaving on the boat is a bit interesting compared to most haunted house and possession films. Most of the time, there is a generally happy ending where the Demonic entity is defeated, the house is cleansed and the possessed individual is liberated. That doesn’t really happen here, sure George ultimately shakes off his possession and goes back to normal but it’s insinuated that the Lutz family has essentially lost everything as a result, leaving us as the viewer with quite a bit of a defeated feeling to end the film.
Overall, this 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror is probably one of the most okay films I’ve ever watched. While not a bad film by any stretch, it’s also not a good movie but one that just kind of exists. I enjoyed it and ranked it a lot higher when I was younger prior to watching many other horror films to compare it to. Since then, with much more horror experience under my belt, this is quite forgettable. If there’s nothing else to watch I would say go ahead and give it a go but by no means should you go out of your way to track this down.
Pros & Cons
*Solid performances from everyone involved
*Great physical evolution from Ryan Reynolds
*Disturbing moments throughout
*Tense ending chase
*George’s personality shifts too quickly
*Jump scares become quite bland
*Weird soft-core pedophile babysitter thing going on
*Priest scene did not match the tone of the rest of the film
*Katie death fake-out was unneeded
“Houses don’t kill people. People kill people.” – George