For a long-pushed, unceremoniously dropped – straight to Google Play to watch for FREE – 2017 reboot-a-ma-jig, Amityville: The Awakening sure is brazenly confident. Like, beyond pure existence. I’m all for revamping franchises in new and chilling ways, but to shade other Amityville entries without first proving your own merit? That’s exactly what happens when Thomas Mann’s draped-in-black horror devotee asks which Amityville film should be watched from inside 112 Ocean Avenue. “Remakes totally blow,” spouts his goth-punk friend. Hey – at least 2005’s The Amityville Horror features Ryan Reynolds chopping wood shirtless and in longjohns. Which is more than this generic Kidz-Bop mess of redundant haunter misfires has to offer.
Bella Thorne stars as Belle Walker, a damn-the-world transplant now inhabiting the famed Amityville manor where Ronnie DeFeo Jr. murdered his family – but she doesn’t know it. Mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) claims she scored a killer deal on a home spacious enough to fit of her son James’ (Cameron Monaghan) life-support equipment. Cancer stole her husband and she’s not ready to give up on her catatonic baby boy – then James begins showing signs of improvement. It’s a medical miracle! Or is it a consuming evil that now threatens Belle, her sister Juliet (Mckenna Grace) and a willing Joan? Only time – and hallucinations – will tell.
As someone who loves Maniac (2012) and loathes i-Lived, this is neither writer/director Franck Khalfoun’s worst nor winningest effort. Did y’all see what Khalfoun did with his found-footage-style Maniac remake? Part of me wishes Blumhouse/Dimension kept their “hot-shot journalists investigating Amityville’s satanism” original script that would have been first-person POV. Maybe aspirations might have been loftier, or energy more enthusiastic. Instead, we get Amityville: The Awakening. A lullaby that’s happy to take pot-shots at an already week franchise without adding any discernible weight (even shaved down from “R” to “PG-13”).
In aligning Amityville continuity, Khalfoun acknowledges only the original ’79 version as canon. Mann’s Terrence even unsheathes DVD versions of The Amityville Horror, Amityville II: The Possession and the aforementioned Reynolds rehash – a meta push that backfires when we realize Amityville: The Awakening is just a less-involved riff on DeFeo’s original murder. This time as a demon mangles family bonds and invades a sickly boy’s body, while his mother flips God the bird and dances with the Devil. Yes – full insinuation confirmed that Joan knows her son may be healed by evil powers – but even this religious blasphemy ends up forgotten just like each 3:15AM scare alarm or an overall willful ignorance of tension.
Frankly, Thorne is a solid survivor who’s at her best when protecting the knee-high Ms. Grace. Leigh fights sedation as her selfish matriarch becomes warped by reckless intent and Monaghan only acts with his eyes for 80% of the film (before his telegraphed finale) – unintended airlessness with no horror gravitas. Little development goes into “why” and “how,” so we’re left reacting to whatever middle-of-the-night terror might shake one of our cardboard family cut-outs. Maybe Thorne peeling back wallpaper in her room to reveal DeFeo bloodstains just a layer away from exposure (um, 40 years and no maid?). Maybe Grace spying a fang-faced version of James hiding in her closet (completely out-of-line with the next scene’s placement). Why does it always feel like bigger moments are missing from connective scenes? Surely it couldn’t have been the numerous years of test screenings and reshoots…
Franck Khalfoun’s often-rethought Amityville: The Awakening is sleepover background noise at its best, traceable genre road-mapping at its worst. The sum of Bella Thorne and Mckenna Grace’s good is vastly overshadowed by digital buggies, underplayed scares and paranormal putzing around on a wastefully unambitious scale. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s abandonment of the Holy Lord sounds far better on paper than it does in action – mainly because two living daughters are sacrificed for her comatose son. Sure. Let Cameron Monaghan rock his grey flesh tone makeup and Crypt-Keeper bod all you want, but supplemental scares need to be more than Leigh waving her shotgun around like Annie Oakley. This is all sizzle and no demonic stakes, resulting in one trip to “The Red Room” that no one will remember.
Amityville: The Awakening is the kind of "meta" sequel that pokes fun of other franchise entries - saying 2005's remake "blows" - without ever recognizing its own place in (back of) the pack.