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Got the Blus: Amityville: The Awakening Dreams of Being Better

By Luke Y. Thompson

Got the Blus: Amityville: The Awakening Dreams of Being Better

It's an odd sign of the times that a hit-making producer like Jason Blum, whose proven horror formula (unknown threat menaces people in a single-location house) has been so successful you probably didn't even realize Get Out was using it, somehow flubbed the use of a big-name IP like Amityville. Long-delayed, it was given away for free on streaming services during October, and comes out on Blu-ray today for $21.99 with one short featurette the only extra. Granted, this new Amityville isn't particularly good...but neither were any of the previous movies in the series, if we're being completely honest. However, it does at least fail in interesting ways.

Any attempt to re-approach Amityville has to contend with Eddie Murphy's famous objection to the original: why don't white people just leave the house once they find out it's haunted? It is to some degree a question borne of celebrity privilege (your humble reviewer here lived six years in a place that flooded regularly because no other affordable options were available), but the answer here is a good one: one of the family members, the teen-aged James (Cameron Monaghan) is comatose, and possibly brain dead, but his family is hoping he'll somehow not just cling to life but reclaim it. 

Monaghan, who was so wonderfully over-the-top as Gotham's proto-Joker Jerome, excels in the opposite direction here; this kid's gonna be a huge star in the right role. Confined at first to just using his eyes and tear ducts, he's both creepy and poignant as the locked-inside-his-body victim of possible possession. Like the best bogeymen, he moves when you're not looking, and of course has creepy telepathic conversations with scary little sister Juliet (Mckenna Grace). When he reveals via an eye-directed keyboard that there's someone else inside his body with him, the horror stakes escalate -- unfortunately, this occasionally means bad CGI, like a swarm of digital flies attacking Kurtwood Smith, who does his damnedest to sell the illusion.

For about two thirds of the movie, director Franck Khalfoun (P2) generates effective suspense, along with some clever meta-humor for simple exposition: the original movies all exist as movies in this new installment, so James' twin sister Belle (Bella Thorne) has some idea what to expect once her creepy, harassing male classmate shows her one. Unfortunately -- or rather, incongruently -- Amityville: The Awakening becomes a different kind of movie for its climax, embracing a cheesy camp factor that might have worked if the entire thing were that way. The most notable aspect of the behind-the-scenes featurette is that it reveals the actors were covered in way more blood on set than in the final product, and it was probably cleaned up to maintain a PG-13. But it also suggests this might have been much crazier in conception, which might not have led to anything better, but it would at least have been committed.

Images: Lionsgate

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