Hellraiser, Children of the Corn, Puppet Master, and The Amityville Horror. What does these horror franchises all have in common? An endless supply of sequels of which only the most dedicated fans would be aware. At this point, I’ve lost count of how many sequels, prequel, and remakes constitute The Amityville franchise. Just earlier this year, The Amityville Murders – a remake of a prequel to the first movie – released and unimpressed. Now Netflix has added Amityville: The Awakening just in time for their October ‘Netflix and Chills’ lineup. Neither a sequel nor a prequel, Awakening may be a soft reboot. Not that it matters.
Struggling single mom Joan moves her family into the infamous Amityville house. Though she’s aware of the brutal murders committed there 40 years ago and the stories of hauntings, the financially-strapped Joan gets the property for a bargain price. Following a tragic accident, her comatose teenage son, James, has looming medical bills. So Joan settles her family – young Juliet and high schooler Belle – into the house. Soon thereafter, James begins to make a recovery that doctors believed was impossible. But twin sister Belle doesn’t think it’s James. As strange things unfold in the house, Belle believes something else has awakened her brother.
Amityville: The Awakening Dares Itself to be Good
Writer and director Franck Khalfoun has at least one good movie to his credit. His 2012 remake of 70’s grindhouse flick, Maniac, is a genuinely disturbing and tense movie. And his first directorial effort, P2, is flawed but has its moments. Not surprisingly then, Amityville: The Awakening shows a little bit of life in the early going. Khalfoun engineers a few good startles and jump scares. Like the Paranormal Activity series, Khalfoun makes good use of the background and screen corners. Shadows creep and doors slowly creak open in the background, building the kind of dread and anticipation you want out of a scary movie. For a good 30 minutes or so, Amityville: The Awakening almost dares itself to be a good movie against all odds.
Amityville: The Awakening Can’t Exorcise Its Derivativeness
After countless franchise entries, it shouldn’t be shocking that there’s little new about Amityville: The Awakening. Even The Conjuring franchise has shown the strains of successive sequels and prequels (The Nun, Annabelle Comes Home). Outside of the Manson Family Murders, there aren’t many real (or purportedly real) events that have inspired as much fictional property. Very quickly, Khalfoun runs out of ideas and scares. Soon Amityville: The Awakening feels like just about every other Amityville movie. From swarming flies to the secret basement room, it’s all been done. An effort to take a meta-approach to its material by acknowledging the existence of the original movies and remake goes nowhere. Khalfoun doesn’t do anything with the idea. As things creak into the final act, scares and suspense disappear. Even the production values and special effects looking increasingly cheap.
Good Cast Can’t Scare Much Out of Unnecessary Reboot
Poor Jennifer Jason Leigh. After a successful early career, Leigh faded away before a career resurgence in movies like Annihilation and The Hateful Eight. Amityville: The Awakening saddles Leigh with a largely thankless role. To her credit, Leigh does what she can to make hay out of straw, but it’s an underwritten character further burdened by a nonsensical twist in motivation. Former Disney star Bella Thorne probably escapes Amityville unscathed. As compared to Leigh, Thorne is tasked with carrying much of the movie and she rises to the occasion. While she can’t save the movie, Thorne is arguably one of the better aspects of this unnecessary movie. Gotham-alum, Cameron Monaghan, continues to elevate his status as a ‘go-to-villain’. In what’s largely a speechless role, Monaghan strikes an effectively creepy tone.
Please Stop Making These Movies
It’s been 40 years since The Amityville Horror was released. In 2019, we’ve had not one, but two, bad Amityville movies. Whether it’s a sequel, remake, or soft reboot, Amityville: The Awakening was a completely unnecessary movie, and it shows. Folks, the well is dry. The concept has been mined for everything it’s worth, and then some. With Halloween just around the corner, Netflix and Chill has much better options for horror fans.