There’s a certain level of expectation required of an Asylum film. When that film is done in the style of “found footage” – arguably the easiest method of making a horror film to get right –your expectations are very slightly raised, if only because it’s the only way the studio can utilize their incredibly low budget in a way that isn’t utterly laughable. Their first foray into the style came with Paranormal Entity, an attempt to cash in on the enormous popularity of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it was sufficiently creepy enough to provide a modicum of entertainment. Since then, Asylum has been churning out found footage and mockumentary-style horror flicks, and with The Amityville Haunting, they have finally reached their apex of terribleness.
The film opens with a group of kids breaking into a house, having sex, then presumably being murdered. We’re then taken to June of 2008 and the arrival of the Benson family in their new home, 112 Ocean Avenue – the same home where Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed six family members in the seventies and subsequently providing the inspiration for The Amityville Horror. Aware of the house’s past but unable to keep jumping from house to house, the family moves in and begins to experience strange occurrences, all captured on camera.
One of the great things about found footage horror is its ability to hide bad acting. It’s not always successful, but more often than not you’re too distracted by what’s going on – or what might be going on – the footage as it slowly unfolds. While our three female characters fit firmly into these two categories, the two male leads inThe Amityville Haunting manage to turn what is essentially an easy pass in some downright laughable performances. The son, Tyler Benson, is filming a documentary, turning the camera on himself at the end of each day to explain what he has seen. The father, Douglas Benson, is a tough-as-nails, I-don’t-take-shit-from-anyone type of father who rules the family with an authoritarian fist. While at first it’s forgivable, the presence of the ghost, given some sort of physical manifestation through the mildly frightening yet severely played out discussions between it and Douglas’s young daughter, manages to devolve the character from an unbelieving father to one who shadow boxes an unseen specter and drops to the ground in an apparent Vietnam flashback. It’s hilarious, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be.
As the film progresses, the decision is made to switch from a first person point of view to a mix of first person and CCTV footage, installed by Douglas. This is precipitated by a series of bizarre events – doors opening, noises, and the aforementioned ghostly discussions – and while it adds a new dimension to the level of fear the film is trying to convey, it does so in a sporadic and uninspired way. Numerous shots of the CCTV footage where nothing happens appear more often than anything of substance, with one creepy scene featuring a ghostly apparition doing the bare minimum to keep you from turning off the movie. Eventually we’re given an ending that somehow manages to be more interesting and well executed than the rest of the film while at the same time being infused with the sort of unintentional hilarity we’ve come to expect out of Asylum productions.
The Asylum is brilliant. Deliberately marketing their productions in a way to fool unsuspecting fans of horror films unaware with their devious practices ensures a return on almost all productions. Since the found footage boom that was more or less kicked off in 2009 with Paranormal Activity, they’ve been churning them out at an astounding rate. And you’ll keep watching them, and they’ll keep making them, and we’ll be caught in this endless cycle of laughable mediocrity until The Asylum is the only production company left on Earth.