AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING (2017): Better as a Stand-Alone than a Sequel?

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THE AMITYVILLE HORROR was one of the main films that made me a horror fanatic growing up. I like slasher films, but movies about the paranormal and demonic are my particular addiction. When they are supposedly based on a true story, that just sweetens the high. Like a lot of others who saw the film in the 70’s, I found any speculation about what happened to the DeFeo and Lutz families fascinating. I didn’t really pay attention to the sequels; and the remake with Ryan Reynolds was, well, it was a movie.

If NetFlix hadn’t sent me AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING, I probably would not have watched it. I started it with very low expectations. I ended up liking it more than I thought I would. It has a solid cast with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bella Thorne, and Cameron Monaghan.  It also has some genuinely creepy moments.

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Joan (Leigh) is a single mother of three who moves into the infamous house hoping its demonic presence will help her son James (Monaghan), who is comatose and reportedly brain-dead. Her daughters Belle (Thorne) and Juliet (McKenna Grace) are reluctant tagalongs, unaware of the history of their new home. Joan and Belle have a strained relationship since Belle is at fault for her twin James’ accident. Belle soon learns about what took place in the house and begins to suspect the long-buried demons have returned.

After months of no sign of consciousness, James begins to wake up and even to communicate with the aid of a computer. Belle suspects something dark is using him, but Joan is obsessed with getting her son back, even at the expense of her daughters. Unfortunately, they realize too late that James is reenacting Ronnie DeFeo’s murders.

The problem I have is that I feel AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING falls into the category of films that really didn’t need to be a sequel. Certain movies seem as if they would have been better received if released on their own. Another example is PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES (2014).  It had a good story but seemed marred, as it tried too hard at the end to tie in the previous movies.

AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING, written and directed by Franck Khalfoun, had a long road to release starting back in 2012. The original idea was a found-footage film, but that plan was scrapped. Khalfoun uses news footage and has the main characters watching the original movie, which feels cheesy.  The scene where Dr. Milton (Kurtwood Smith) is attacked by flies also felt a bit forced. I think the primary idea would have been more interesting without the distraction of Amityville.

Monaghan, as the comatose James, is my favorite part of the film. He is immobile through most of the film, but his emaciated and twisted body on the bed and his gaunt wide stare bothered me even after the movie was over. He is as magnetic to watch in this as he is on SHAMELESS, and I hope he does more horror in the future. Leigh is also good as a mother struggling with her faith and desperate not to lose her son.