Fantasia 2012 Review: MY AMITYVILLE HORROR

If you are a fan of all things Amityville Horror, be it the conspiracies surrounding the famous 1975 haunting itself, or the book-turned-movie franchise that followed in its wake, then I am inclined to recommend director Eric Walter's investigation into just what went on in the house on 112 Ocean Avenue. Uniquely privy to the perspective of Daniel Lutz, who was ten-years old when his family was purportedly terrorized by supernatural forces thirty-five years ago, the documentary lays out through a series of candid, and frequently emotional interviews, a number of new disturbing and unsettling peculiarities to perhaps the most rehearsed "true-life" horror legends of the last century, the most compelling of which is Daniel's assertion that it was his step-father's secret exploration of the occult that brought about the haunting, rather then the house itself. Adding a reunion of the journalists who were first on the scene in 1975, as well as the eccentric appearance of Lorraine Warren, the medium who famously conducted a séance in the house, My Amityville Horror is definitely bringing a lot to the conversation worth hearing. However, despite all this, I was admittedly left a bit frustrated by its execution. 

Perhaps, it is due to my passing familiarity with the Amityville story, but I found the documentary's contextualization of the 1975 incidents to be somewhat clumsily relayed. I frequently felt like I was missing pieces of the Lutz's publicized narrative, not necessarily because they were not all there, but because of how they were laid out. I frequently found myself getting intrigued by casual mentions of compelling phenomena, including an unnerving, inexplicable photograph ghostly child taken during Lorraine Warren's séance, only for the film to gloss over it as just another piece of the puzzle when it seemed deserving of much more scrutiny. Granted, the film is more interested in constructing a psychological portrait of Daniel Lutz, then it is with the haunting itself (a puzzle then can likely never be solved), but even with that aim in mind, I did find myself wanting more context to the proceedings.

I specifically wanted to know why Lutz agreed to talk with these filmmakers and how these interviews were conducted? I was thrown off by the way the film moves between casual testimonials and some very stagey one on ones, the most awkward of which is between Daniel and a psychologist, who then suddenly drops out of most of the film. Daniel clearly gets his back up at the onset of the session with this psychologist, and the whole episode feels awkwardly engineered to goad a reaction. Its enough to give a whiff of possible exploitation towards Daniel as a subject, and the smell is worse in the film's concluding moments where questions from off-screen border on being uncomfortably interrogative, going so far to encourage hostility from a increasingly frustrated Daniel.

And yet while Walter and his crew usually stay both off-screen and silent, the film actually becomes much more enthralling when we get to glimpse their own doubts and religious hang-ups ("I'm agnostic" a crew-member stammers off-screen while being intensely judged by both Daniel and Lorraine Warren), and it is these glimpses of the larger relationship between filmmaker and subject that kept cueing me to a larger story, beyond the frame, that I really wanted to further explore. 

In the director's defense, I concede I probably spent too much time looking beyond the scope of the film's particular project. My Amityville Horror is primarily concerned with an individual's troubled recollection of a past trauma, and the film does successfully manage to offer up a number of possible psychological catalysts that would have induced and perpetuated such traumatic memories. While I do not think the material is presented elegantly or even as ethically as it should be, I also do not doubt the sincerity of the filmmakers. For a debut feature effort, the film boasts polished aesthetics, some impressive research, bringing compelling new pieces to this supernatural puzzle, and, I stress again, is worthy of any Amityville afcionado's time.
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