Cast: John Robinson, Chelsea Ricketts, Paul Ben-Victor. Diane Franklin
Directed and Written by: Daniel Farrands
Running time: 97 Minutes
Reviewed by Dan Oles
A period piece is ambitious at the best of times, but a period piece on a budget is a challenge in extremis. The Amityville Murders has no lack of zeal when it comes to the recreation of an iconic era in American history and the lives of people not widely known. An issue arrives however than of any genre historical fiction is the most difficult to pull off because you need to not only convince an audience events and characters exist in the context of the story being told, there needs to be special care to make them feel as real as the people and circumstances actually were. Leaving aside ghosts and possession, there really was a DeFeo family which was actually murdered by the youngest son.
Of course there’s the other elephant in the room as well: there is a fairly famous movie which already used the Amityville Murders as inspiration. It was called The Amityville Horror and it spawned several sequels, including a prequel based on the original murders with the family name changed. To bear witness to these tragic lives and make the drama feel palpable again particular attention is needed.
For the most part it’s here. The acting is on point, nuanced, and believable. Subtle lighting and direction makes things feel at once old fashioned and immediate. Thankfully easy mistakes like references to historically inaccurate events and concepts have been carefully excised. A character references The Exorcist but thankfully the writer took into consideration that the events of the murders happened a year after the release of that film and it was popular enough for it to be well known.
Overall, not a bad production from a technical standpoint. At least outside of the embarrassing computer animation exterior shots of the famous Amityville house with super-imposed lightning and rain. The film is best when it knows its limitations.
A true stumbling block is an all too common issue in any genre: writing. It’s not enough to tell us someone is Italian, they need to play up stereotypes to a ridiculous degree. Teenagers talk not like real teenagers but like an interpretation of young people from other films. People have a habit of referring to each other by their names directly so the audience can learn them and they bring up all manner of extraneous facts about themselves for the sake of filling in backstory. Every emotional association is pushed to the absolute extreme. Abusive fathers are openly violent and cruel. People harboring attraction for one another say as much out loud and in no uncertain terms. Crazy people rattle on and on about crazy things. It feels clunky: like a couple more takes were necessary or maybe a rewrite or two of the script to maximize the smoothness of relationships and plot points.
Of course making an Amityville film at all was an uphill battle. According to the accepted accounts of the murders the entire family was killed without a struggle and the murderer only later admitted to his crime so the grand finale everything builds to is a foregone conclusion without much wiggle room. The opening of the film itself reveals who dies and who killed them so there’s no mystery here.
What remains? Well, a fairly typical supernatural narrative about seances and demons without much originality. Again, the narrative is shackled to the Amityville legacy at this point so innovation is difficult but it does raise the issue again: why another Amityville movie?
It all culminates in a montage of the real DeFeo family and real newsreel of the killings, which seems more than a little jarring since the film has by then attributed horrible things to the family members and blamed their passing on evil spirits. The final powerful piano and violin music SHOULD be the capstone of emotional impact, but it was lessened for me when I recognized it from a famous trailer for the video game Dead Island…and the music track is literally called ‘Dead Island Theme’ by the composer Giles Lamb. Another bit of borrowed pathos misinterpreted.
Amityville Murders reaches for the stars and has a fine cast and crew clearly but it concludes with a whimper instead of a bang. There’s talent, there’s care, there’s an attempt made to tell a gripping story but it’s all from recycled parts and the most unique aspects to itself are either quite decent (actors, period details) or embarrassing (really bad digital effects, some cheesy set decoration).
An honest effort that might be an interesting curiosity for Amityville fans, but it has limited appeal outside of a very niche audience.
Anti-Hero The Motion Comic Series
Episode 1 (Watch for Free!) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmmouuBlWTk&t=49s