One of the more watchable Amityville films, for whatever that praise may be worth.
Franck Khalfoun’s Amityville: The Awakening is, according to the press materials, the 10th canonical film in a long-running central Amityville series, a franchise of films that has wended its way calmly and unobtrusively through the history of horror movies without much notice. While the 1979 film The Amityville Horror, based on Jay Anson’s notorious “true story” of a real-life haunting in the titular New York town, is considered to be something of a minor horror classic, few of the film’s many sequels, reboots, and spinoffs have left much impression in people’s minds (Amityville II: The Possession being, perhaps, the one exception, if only for its incestuous underpinnings).
Amityville: The Awakening, while largely a generic haunting film without much in the way of a hook beyond its famous setting, can at least claim to be one of the more watchable Amityville films, for whatever that praise may be worth. Awakening boasts decent production values, a notable cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurtwood Smith, and a few fleeting moments of palpable, spooky atmosphere. And while Awakening never manages to move the needle anywhere past the most basic baseline reading, it is perhaps the best Amityville film since 1983.
Awakening stars Bella Thorne as Belle, a stereotypical broody Goth teen whose doting mother (Leigh) has moved her, her younger sister (Mckenna Grace), and her comatose twin brother James (Cameron Monaghan) into the infamous 112 Ocean Ave. house in the hopes that the new setting will revive her son. James, a frightening, skeletal figure, is a dark specter that hangs over the family. Mom believes he can still recover, but his sisters have largely accepted that James left them long ago. It’s during the heady and serious conversations about James that Awakening threatens to break into something salient and poignant.
Belle, perhaps naturally, doesn’t know about the dark history of the house until an enthused classmate (Thomas Mann) shows her a DVD of the 1979 feature film and a copy of Anson’s book. That the 1979 film exists as a film within its own continuity is a little dizzying, but a wise horror fan knows to ignore such trifling double-backs. As if on cue, Belle begins seeing shadowy figures lurking in the hallways at night, and James begins showing signs of recovery… or possession.
There are the makings of a very good family drama hidden within Awakening, and director Khalfoun (Maniac, P2) manages to squeeze a notable – if not enormous – amount of tactile suffering out of his trim screenplay. The film, however, swiftly jettisons its maturity, preferring to become a usual collection of usual jump scares, usual banging noises, and usual shots of usual pajama-clad teens wandering slowly down usual darkened passageways to investigate usual spooky noises. The scares are handled with competence, but horror fans deserve more than mere competence.
Amityville: The Awakening was completed in 2014, but was shelved for three years due to various distribution problems. It is now finally been made available for free on Google Play in advance of a proper theatrical release on October 28th. (It will also be available on Blu-ray and DVD on November 14.) Incidentally, in the three years it took this film to be released, about five or six other Amityville films made their way to the public.