Wednesday, January 24, 2007


White Elephant Reviews: The Amityville Horror (2005)

Really, and in a totally non-homoerotic way, I will watch anything with Ryan Reynolds in it, especially if it’s on OnDemand. I expected little, but this widely despised remake of the simultaneously boring and nerve-wracking original Amityville Horror pleasantly surprised me. It also made sure that I couldn’t get to sleep until 2:00AM. I had to eat a whole container of wintergreen mints and read The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a pretty short book.

The basic plot is: the Lutz family gets a real bargain on a house in Amityville because the previous tenants were all murdered up real good. The Lutzeses move in undaunted, get somewhat daunted by the house's weird noises and unearthly visions, then eventually get very daunted but too hypnotized by the house's evil to leave. The local spirits work especially hard on Ryan Reynolds, turning him from a happy-go-lucky contractor into an embittered shut in child hating weirdo (perhaps this explains why he teamed up with Jessica Biehl to hunt vampires). This takes about a month. Then they move out, leaving all their worldly, 1970s-era goods behind. In between, some black goop oozes out of various parts of the house and a slutty babysitter gets really, really scared.

Anyway, if we judge horror movies by whether they inspire fear (or its more sophisticated and rarer cousin, horror), this one’s a winner. The movie was genuinely horrifying, in that it created a long-burning and hideous dread without having to actually supply too many scares. The director uses surprise cuts sparingly and very clumsily, since none of them are in the least scary. They’re about on par with a well funded haunted hayride and they consist mostly of actors in lots of white makeup drooling Hershey’s syrup out of their mouths. But the moaning sounds of the old house and Ryan Reynolds' against-type performance load on the tension big-style.

So the movie is pretty good. But the story is classic (and its structure is of course literally true, even if the haunting is disputed). Bear with me here: we have a man marrying a woman who already has children, so he’s a stranger and so are they. They buy a house (the scene in the movie in which they tour the house and make their decision is very finely done - the Amityville story is of course a real estate nightmare). The movie is in some ways also about the fact that you really don’t know what you’re getting with either house or marriage.

It kept reminding me of the Roman wedding ceremony. The Roman bride wore red and carried a torch, a strange fire which could kindle the hearth OR burn the house down. She was marked always as a stranger: her children were members of her husband’s family but she never really was. In the movie this is quite sensibly reversed with the husband as stranger, a vile torch ignited by a chthonic spark.

This is especially sinister given that the movie is in many ways so everday. It's just a family unhappy with its new house. They don't really even need an evil spirit to tear themselves to pieces.

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