Let's get something established right off the bat: The remake of The Amityville Horror is much, much better than the 1979 original. The original was one of the worst mega-successful horror films ever made: long, cheap-looking, terribly acted and an embarrassment to Long Island, N.Y. It's not a good thing for a haunted-house movie when the most horrifying image is the sight of Margot Kidder in pigtails.
This is not to say that the new Amityville Horror is some sort of genre classic. It's not. It has the makings of a decent haunted house movie, but somebody needed to slow this one down a spell. It feels rushed, as if the makers were attempting for the total opposite of the original's snail-like pace. Sure, speeding things up in places isn't a bad idea, but we're talking the whole movie whipping by at a rate that makes it nearly impossible to digest anything.
That's a shame, because Ryan Reynolds kicks James Brolin's ass as George Lutz, the man who claimed his newly bought Amityville home was haunted one year after the prior family was murdered. Within 28 days of moving his family into the riverside home, Lutz claimed to hear voices telling him to get out, kill his family and whatnot. The new movie, as did the original, shows Lutz going from fun-loving family man to psychotic killer. It took forever in the first film. This time, it feels like it's overnight.
Reynolds is forced to portray Lutz's disintegration in an amped-up version of Brolin's original slow burn. One minute, the guy is exchanging fart jokes with one of his stepsons, and the next, he's chopping up the family dog. (Yes, the dog dies in this one. In the original, the dog was a hero, saving Brolin from the basement tar pit).
Reynolds has great charm in the film's all-too-rushed preamble to the haunting stuff, and his interactions with Melissa George as Kathy Lutz (so, so much better than Kidder) are entertaining. Yes, it's a strange thing that one should request more exposition in a haunted-house movie, but that's exactly what this film needed: more slow moments. This is an example of a movie in dire need of at least another 15 minutes.
As for the scares, there are a few decent ones, but some are a bit silly. One where a baby sitter is forced to place an index finger into a bullet hole in somebody's head is too funny to be scary. Another, where Lutz sees a vision of an Amityville ghost hanging herself, makes absolutely no sense (the ghost was made a ghost by gun, not noose). All of the stuff involving a former priest who tortured American Indians in the home's basement fails to engage.
Stuff that works: The Lutz's little girl goes for a stroll on top of the house, because Jodie (the mischievous little girl ghost) told her to. This sequence looks terrific, as if an 8-year-old kid is actually doing a high-wire act on a house roof. Director Andrew Douglas' film looks great, a surprise considering his cameraman was Peter Lyons Collister, whose previous claim to fame was shooting Rob Schneider's visually unimpressive The Animal and Deuce Bigalow.
This one is just too slick. I'm thinking there's plenty of useful footage on the cutting room floor, and this one should be revisited and fleshed out for the DVD. Reynolds' performance is too much fun for an incomplete film. Still, it's a tremendous improvement over the original, putting Brolin and that stupid glowing-eyed pig in the window to shame.