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An Old Story Can’t Find A New Angle In “The Amityville Murders”

There’s a reason that this particular story keeps getting told over and over again. A family, seemingly perfect, that up and butchers themselves? Yeah, that’s fascinating. Whether it’s because of demonic forces or (more likely) just your garden variety insanity, there’s something there that makes for potentially strong horror filmmaking. Alas, that’s rarely the case, and this week’s new offering, The Amityville Murders, does nothing to reverse the trend. It avoids being outwardly terrible, but still ends up bland, unremarkable, and among the least interesting releases of 2019 so far.

The movie is an origin story, telling the tale of the first killings that inspired this urban legend. As the official plot synopsis states: “On the night of November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. took a high-powered rifle and murdered his entire family as they slept. At his trial, DeFeo claimed that “voices” in the house commanded him to kill. This is their story.” When we meet the family, they seem perfectly normal. Patriarch Ronnie DeFeo (Paul Ben-Victor), wife Louise (Diane Franklin), and children, including Butch/Ronnie Jr. (John Robinson) and eldest daughter Dawn (Chelsea Ricketts) have just moved into a beautiful house. Built by the kids’ grandparents (Lainie Kazan and Burt Young) a generation ago, it appears ideal. Of course, it isn’t. Soon, strange things begin happening. Ronnie gets more and more violent, Butch appears under a spell of sorts, and there’s a definite sense of evil lurking. Eventually, the inevitable killings occur. The question is, why did they happen? Daniel Farrands writes and directs, with the supporting players including Zane Austin, Noa Brenner, Rebekah Graf, Kue Lawrence, and more. Cinematography is by Carlo Rinaldi, while Dana Kaproff composed the score.

Sadly, this film alternates between being mediocre and being outright bad. Sporadically intense sequences are interspersed with laughably broad ones. The performances are one note and lean way too heavily into Long Island accents that are more likely to inspire accidental laughter than make you feel like this is of a place and time. Whatever little bit of interest is generated by focusing on the case of the DeFeo family as opposed to the usual Lutz clan ends up utterly wasted. There’s just nothing interesting here. You keep waiting for the inevitable killings to happen. It’s a real slog to get there.

It’s a shame that this is such a waste of the material. Filmmakers keep coming back to this murder and its aftermath, but few can find a compelling story to tell. That remains the case here. It’s almost as if whomever opts to make an Amityville flick can never find the balance between supernatural horror and human terror. They always lean into speculation and never seem to speculate about anything partially interesting. Until someone either cracks the code or producers stop financing this sort of thing, the cycle seems likely to continue. There’s another strong Amityville film to be made. I believe that. I just have yet to see it.

Starting on Friday, audiences curious to see The Amityville Murders will be able to do so. I would advise against it, but if we’re damning with faint praise, I will say that it could have been a whole hell of a lot worse. No one is going to see it because of that, and it’s not much of a pull quote, but that’s where we are. If you’re an Amityville franchise completist, this may well be on your radar. Otherwise? There isn’t much of a reason to seek this one out. Whatever you’re looking for, you can do better with other offerings in the marketplace…

The Amityville Murders hits theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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