AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING
(US - 2017)
On the shelf so long that the prefix "the long-delayed" should just be tacked on to the title, the long-delayed AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING was shot was back in 2014 with a trailer hitting theaters that fall, ahead of its planned January 2, 2015 release. After being abruptly pulled from the schedule and sent back for reshoots, with at least six more release dates announced then bumped or canceled over the next two and a half years, the film finally debuted--for free and with disgraced co-executive producer Harvey Weinstein's name awkwardly erased from the opening credits--on Google Play in October 2017, ahead of a ten-screen theatrical release for a total gross of $742. It's hard telling what caused the delay, other than the Weinsteins' perpetual financial issues or that they just knew it was dog shit. A reboot of the AMITYVILLE franchise for the Blumhouse era of horror, THE AWAKENING has 17-year-old Belle (Bella Thorne) moving into the infamous house with her widowed mom Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), little sister Juliet (McKenna Grace), and James (Cameron Monaghan), Belle's comatose twin brother, who hasn't moved or shown any brain activity since a horrible fall from a third story balcony when he go into a fight with a guy who posted nude pics of Belle all over the internet. Rebellious, sullen Belle doesn't fit in and gets bullied because of where she lives, but makes a couple of friends with nerdy Terrence (Thomas Mann) and goth Marissa (Taylor Spreitler), who inform her of the legend of the "Amityville Horror" by showing her the 1979 movie.
Now, what the hell kind of bullshit is writer/director and Alexandre Aja protege Franck Khalfoun (the 2013 remake of MANIAC) trying to pull here? Are we going the meta WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE and SCREAM route with an AMITYVILLE movie that takes place in a world where the movie franchise is a known thing? If so, then you have to try harder. Exactly how has Belle made it to 17 years of age without hearing of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR? I'm not even asking her to know the James Brolin version since it's like, so old and she probably can't even--but she doesn't even know the Ryan Reynolds remake, as evidenced when Terrence suggests it and Belle and Marissa roll their eyes and vocal fry "Remakes totally blow!" OK, so if you're a savvy enough movie watcher to conclude that remakes totally blow, then how are you unaware of any incarnation of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR? At this point, James--unlike Khalfoun's script--starts showing signs of brain activity thanks to malevolent spirits in the basement's "Red Room," and Belle becomes convinced that the same evil that possessed Ronald DeFeo Jr to slaughter his family in 1974 is inhabiting James and risking all of their lives. A tired jumble of AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION and PATRICK with hints of last year's already forgotten SHUT IN, AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING stumbles to its tired conclusion, relying completely on predictable jump scares and hinging on Joan's thoroughly idiotic reasons for moving into a house she knew was home to a godless evil, all the while abandoning plot points and completely forgetting James' doctor (Kurtwood Smith cashing a paycheck), who has a swarm of bush-league CGI flies go down his throat before excusing himself and vanishing from the movie. That's about what Khalfoun does with the limp finale, which looks so much like a hastily tacked-on epilogue that if you analyze the audio and listen deep into the mix, you can probably hear Khalfoun saying "Let's just get this over with." (PG-13, 87 mins)
(US - 2017)
Written and directed by DTV vet Jesse V. Johnson (THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS 2), SAVAGE DOG is pretty pedestrian stuff in the early going, with clumsy narration by David's Valentine (who continues narrating even after he's killed, actually saying "Well, there I was...killed by three slugs from my own gun"), and a drinking game-worthy amount of cliched dialogue (of course, Isabelle tells loner Tillman "Some animals are not meant to be caged," and "We build our own cages," and Steiner sucks on a cigar while smugly informing Tillman "You're not so dissimilar to us"). Once Tillman returns to the camp and starts killing everyone, SAVAGE DOG becomes a rowdy gorefest along the lines of Stallone's 2008 resurrection of RAMBO, culminating in an unexpected final blow to The Executioner that's pretty transgressive as far as by-the-numbers DTV actioners go. The copious splatter is a mix of practical and CGI, with an unfortunate emphasis on the latter. It's distractingly cheap-looking at times, but it almost goes hand-in-hand with the low-budget aesthetic of the whole project, with the jungles of Indochina being played by the Sanna Ranch in Santa Clarita, CA. With some more convincing gore and some better writing, SAVAGE DOG could've been a minor gem among the year's VOD releases. It's not bad and Adkins fans will definitely want to give it a look, but it's the kind of budget-deprived corner-cutter where a big action sequence shows the same extra, wearing three different outfits, getting killed three times in about five minutes of screen time. (Unrated, 95 mins)