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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

‘Amityville: No Escape’ – This Found Footage Installment Is Only Half Successful [The Amityville IP]

Twice a month Joe Lipsett will dissect a new Amityville Horror film to explore how the “franchise” has evolved in increasingly ludicrous directions. This is “The Amityville IP.”

The found footage entries in the Amityville series have been hit and miss. The Amityville Haunting featured a few innovative uses of the format, but the minuscule budget and bad acting hampered its potential. Amityville: Vanishing Point was unable to screen in Canada, though it, too, looked very cheap. The seventeenth film in the “franchise,” Amityville: No Escape, adopts two different strategies for its use of found footage.

Co-written by actor Ira Gansler (he plays the Woodsman), as well as director Henrique Couto, the film opens with cards explaining how the content of the film came to be. The video was cut by the District Attorney’s Office in Suffolk County to “contextualize the inauspicious events that took place on April 15th, 1997 and August 28th, 2016.”

Right away, it’s clear that the film is adopting a dual timeline approach for its storytelling. Normally this would hint to audiences that the timelines will meet, merge, or comment on one another. Sadly, neither Gansler nor Couto make much effort to pay this off, aside from the final “twist” scene of the film, which is underwhelming and verges on nonsensical.

As a result, Amityville: No Escape is the equivalent of two different short films that have been cut together to make a feature.

In the first, a young woman Lina (Julia Gomez) moves in the Amityville house. It’s a familiar story: she and her (never seen) husband bought the house for cheap, completely unaware of its history. The husband has recently been deployed, so the camcorder footage acts like video diaries that Lina is filming for his return. That means these portions of the film mostly feature Lina sitting on the bed or at the kitchen table, speaking directly to the camera or, alternatively, POV sequences as she explores the property.

Naturally as the film progresses, Linda begins to experience strange events. The camera frequently turns itself on while she’s sleeping, dark shadows fall across the bed, objects move by themselves and loud noises startle her. It’s standard issue horror movie/found footage content, but it works because Gomez is a good actress who sells not just the character’s reactions to the spooky stuff, but also her isolation, exhaustion, and paranoia.

Take, for example, the morning after Lina was scared in the night by a thudding noise. She confesses to the camera how embarrassed she was about being seen in her pyjamas by all of the neighbours after calling the police, who, of course, discovered nothing. There’s something incredibly empathetic about Lina’s desperation not just for her husband to come home, but also be believed. The way she repeats “I miss you” throughout the tapes is heartbreaking.

If there’s one frustrating element about this portion of the film, it’s the abruptness of the ending. Naturally Lina’s story comes to a head on April 15th, as the card foretold, but there isn’t enough rising action or enough of an opportunity for Gomez to go for broke with the hauntings. Lina’s story is sad, but the finale needed something punchier.

Still, it’s light years better than the other half of the film.

Student George Harris (Josh Miller) is making a documentary for his thesis on “fear” (that’s it – that’s the topic) so he recruits his friend Simon (Michael William Ralston), his girlfriend Sarah (Joni Durian), his sister Elizabeth (Allison Egan), and Simon’s friend Lisa Sheets (Alia Gabrielle Eckhardt) to camp in the woods behind the Amityville house. There they’ll talk about their fears on camera and…other stuff? (The inciting incident for this group is pretty undercooked).

If the Lina portion of the film is indebted to Paranormal Activity, then this portion is a sad imitation of The Blair Witch Project. Couto’s direction inside the house is fine, because it’s contained and understated. For these outside sequences, however, there’s no sense of scope or atmosphere. The group of College kids are clearly spending the film in a field next to a small patch of trees, so the suggestion that the group has gotten lost walking for 1.5 hours in the last act is thoroughly unbelievable.

The issues don’t stop there: the acting is bad, the dialogue and characterizations are weak, the editing, particularly the scares when the group encounters a threatening Little Girl (Katrina Gansler) is choppy, and the narrative beats are underdeveloped.

Overall, at least half of Amityville: No Escape is worth recommending, if only to watch how Gomez makes a completely isolated performance into something compelling. Unfortunately the constant cross-cutting to the other storyline, which doesn’t work at all, zaps the film of most of its energy. It’s a disappointing mixed bag.

The Amityville IP Awards: 

  • Wild Animals: Gansler’s character appears twice, advising the group not to leave the protection of the campsite at night for fear of wild animals. He carries a gun and offers no other explanations. In the first interaction, everyone is cool with this. The second time around (wherein the Woodsman uses almost word for word dialogue), they panic as though they were threatened. It makes no sense.
  • Skin Check: Sarah is introduced topless in a pool, and Simon walks in on Elizabeth fully nude coming out of the shower. Neither moment is narratively significant, and there’s no male equivalent (the only example of sex is when the others overhear George and Sarah having sex). This renders both instances of female nudity exploitative and unnecessary.
  • Vegan Lisa: Gansler and Couto don’t seem to understand what a vegan is. While the others eat pizza, Lisa literally eats clovers (ie: grass) from the ground. There’s also a bizarre conflation of veganism and environmentalism, wherein she frets about the ozone and how humans hurt each other. Overall Lisa is a perplexing character.
  • Final Twist: When the two stories connect, it should be a kind of “aha!” moment that either justifies the dual narratives or reframes the narrative in a new way. Instead, having Lisa appear back in 1997 as the spectre haunting Lina barely makes sense. Seriously, the 2016 storyline just sinks the whole film.

Next Time: We’re tackling the second of Dustin Ferguson’s three entries, 2020’s Amityville Clownhouse (originally released in 2017 as Amityville: Evil Never Dies), which is apparently a sequel to The Amityville Toybox.

The post ‘Amityville: No Escape’ – This Found Footage Installment Is Only Half Successful [The Amityville IP] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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