The Amityville Murders ends with a note that states: 112 Ocean Avenue is widely-considered the most famous haunted house in America. The Amityville address entered the culture’s consciousness in 1974 when a man brutally murdered six of his family members while they slept inside the house. Then, its infamy began to grow after a story, which involved a family (the Lutz family) being haunted in the Dutch colonial home 13 months after the murders, was released as a book titled The Amityville Horror.
The book was adapted into a film and released in 1979. Over the next forty years, there would be twenty horror films based, or revolving around, 112 Ocean Avenue. The latest addition, and number twenty-one, is The Amityville Murders.
Unlike most of the films in the Amityville wheelhouse, however, the new movie from writer-director Daniel Farrands is an origin story, exploring what drove Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. to kill six members of his family.
Unfortunately, it does it without much style or class. The first offense is that the film prefers cheap, computer-generated scares rather than a deeply disturbing story. It wants to tackle one of the most-talked-about crimes in the horror genre but approaches it with campy CGI and scary-possessed faces that could substitute as a Snapchat filter.
Yet, that’s only part of the problem. The most significant issues with Farrands’ new film is that it’s so scattered. The movie flops from a wanna-be-mafia-movie to a generic haunting flick. Rather than illustrating the detailed mental-decline of Butch DeFeo, the movie wants to make scary shadow creatures and recreate Goodfellas. Thus the tone never settles, and most of the movie just creates this awkward, uncomfortable mood.
Most of that tone is perpetuated by the scenes in which Paul Ben-Victor’s character abuses his children. In one scene, after walking in his kitchen to find a guy hitting on his underage daughter, the character explains how in his day he would have just taken the girl and then proceeds to shove the young man’s face in the bottom of his daughter who is bent over the kitchen island. This scene, and those alike, are the random, embarrassing moments that will have audiences confused and annoyed.
Another problematic element in The Amityville Murders is that there is no emotional connection to the DeFeo family. None of the characters are well-rounded or established. It’s hard to even distinguish some of the characters because they don’t spend any time developing them. There is no one to be emotionally invested in. And because of that, the movie inches by for 80 minutes until the climax, whereby that point viewers will be tuned out.
What is even more upsetting is that there is one solid scene, in which Butch (played by John Robinson) begins cracking. Without lousy CGI, the actor is allowed to communicate the mental-anguish the character is going through, without dialogue. For a moment, the performance is captivating, and the movie provides exactly what it should be—then bad CGI strikes again! While the scene itself is engaging, it only makes The Amityville Murders worse because it shows off everything the movie is missing.
However, the movie’s most significant offense takes place in its final minute. The Amityville Murders comes to what seems like a close, footage and actual images of the DeFeo crime scene are shown. Most true stories end with footage and/or photos of the “actual people” the story is based around; however, it’s quite bold to show off a brutally murdered family. Yet, right after that footage is shown, the movie flies back into fiction and teases the Lutz family moving in, ending with the signature fly landing on the window pane.
It feels incredibly distasteful, merely using the actual footage/images as a way of manipulating the audience, only to reel them in for an Amityville Horror tease. It’s an incredibly tacky move. More than anything this is just another example proving that the film needed all the help it could get to make itself enthralling, and it still didn’t work.