Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Amityville: The Awakening—Back to Long Island’s Most Infamous Address

At the end of Amityville 3-D, the evil house finally burns to the ground, yet somehow it was up and standing again in the next fourteen films in the franchise. Some were reboots and prequels, but others just ignored the slightly glaring continuity problem. The latest (though much delayed) entry has no need of retcons, because it takes place in a world where the DeFeo murders really happened in 1974 and the series of cash-in movies they spawned also very definitely exist. The latest teen resident will even watch the original 1979 movie with her new classmates at the fateful hour of 3:15 am. That turns out to be a bad idea in Franck Khalfoun’s Amityville: The Awakening, which is supposed to have some sort of release this weekend, despite its early promotional window of free streaming on Google Play.

Belle Walker’s family has just moved into 112 Ocean Avenue, because the price was right and it was conveniently near her catatonic brother’s doctor. That is correct, they have brought a possibly brain-dead vessel into a demonically-possessed house. What a super-good idea that is.

So yes, Awakening is basically the Amityville franchise mixed with the Ozploitation cult classic Patrick for an infusion of new blood. To be honest, it works better than any of us have a right to expect. Poor James Walker does indeed start showing signs of life, but in a series of admirably tense scenes, his sister determines there is something evil in there with him.

Even though Awakening is a Blumhouse production from a horror director with a bit of a critical reputation, the Weinsteins kept it languishing on the shelf. Seriously, what is so hard about marketing an Amityville Horror movie? Frankly, their habit of hiding films in the vault or frittering away their release (Suite Française on Lifetime?) is another reason the industry has so enjoyed their ongoing implosion.

Regardless, Awakening is probably one of the fresher Amityville films, since the original with Margot Kidder (helmed by Stuart Rosenberg, director of Cool Hand Luke). Khalfoun’s take is far from the scariest film you will see this holiday season, but he keeps it moving along nicely and the meta-references to the prior books and films are a rather clever tweaking of the franchise.

Academy Award nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh is surprisingly creepy as Walker’s ill-tempered mother, Joan. Bella Thorne carries the film well enough as Belle Walker, while nicely playing off Taylor Spreitler and Thomas Mann as her personal Monster Squad. Plus, genre regular Kurtwood Smith (Robocop, Agent Carter) does his thing as neurologist Dr. Milton.

As of now, the price is certainly right for Awakening, but it still deserved way better treatment than it received. Franck actually shows a subtle touch and measured restraint, which are not so apparent in Maniac, probably his best-known film so far. For a bit of a nostalgic guilty pleasure, you could do worse than streaming Amityville: The Awakening on Google Play (for free), until November 8th. There is also a theatrical screening vaguely reported for October 28th and the DVD releases on November 14th.