Friday, March 15, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Kooky & Spooky

The violent yet artful stylings of Korean director Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, Thirst) are applied to a contrived, Southern Gothic plot in Stoker, now playing nationwide.  The result is artistically queasy and may induce physical queasiness in some viewers.  Written by Wentworth Miller, who formerly starred on TV’s Prison Break and is now apparently retired from acting, Stoker’s screenplay was acclaimed in recent years as one of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood.  It’s hard to see what all the fuss was about via the final film despite the A-list cast it attracted, including Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Matthew Goode (Watchmen, Colin Firth’s boyfriend in A Single Man) and Nicole Kidman.

Wasikowska plays teenaged India Stoker, who is grieving her father’s recent, tragic death in an apparent car accident.  She receives little comfort from her similarly-grieving but chilly mother (Kidman).  When long-absent Uncle Charlie (Goode) reappears at the funeral reception, he kindles sexual urges in both women and unexpectedly homicidal instincts in his niece.

Stoker boasts provocative shots of spiders crawling up India’s legs, pseudo-philosophical reflections such as “To become an adult is to become free,” erotic piano duets, and a virtual cameo by recent Academy Award nominee Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook).  Kidman’s character becomes increasingly unhinged as the story progresses; between her campy turn in last year’s The Paperboy and this, I fear the Oscar-winning actress risks becoming the new Faye Dunaway.  Die-hard fans of director Park may appreciate Stoker but most everyone else would do best to steer clear.

Meanwhile, another haunted family back on the big screen in select cities and on Video On Demand (VOD) this weekend is all too real.  George and Kathy Lutz and their three children allegedly endured 28 days and nights of terror during the mid-1970’s in Amityville, New York.  Their new home was the site of a massacre one year earlier, when Ronald DeFeo shot and killed his entire family while they slept.  Shortly after moving in, the Lutzes began experiencing supernatural phenomenon that ultimately drove them from the house.  This has been recounted in the bestselling book The Amityville Horror as well as several films inspired by it.

George and Kathy have since passed away, but their son Daniel Lutz has broken the children’s longtime silence about the Lutz family’s ordeal in the intrinsically intriguing new documentary My Amityville Horror.  During the 37 years since, Daniel moved from place to place, was married and divorced, and underwent extensive therapy before settling into his current life as a small town UPS deliveryman.  He shares his remembrances openly, even movingly at times.

Given the opportunity to debunk reports of his family’s experience, as some researchers and more recent residents of the house have done, Daniel affirms the book’s account of events with just a few corrections or clarifications.  This was surprising to me given the vehemence with which he often speaks in the film of his stepfather, George.  He also acknowledges that George, who seemingly had a pre-haunting interest in telekinesis and the occult, may have manipulated Daniel and his siblings or the phenomenon they witnessed.  Still, Daniel resolutely maintains that his family was indeed under siege by unearthly forces that may have been unintentionally stirred up by George’s physical resemblance to prior tenant Ronald DeFeo.  (DeFeo, who was convicted of his family members’ murders and remains in prison, claimed that voices in the house commanded him to kill.)

My Amityville Horror is spooky stuff, effectively directed by Eric Walter, even as it rehashes much of what is well known from the books and movies.  One thing shown in the documentary that I had not previously seen is a creepy photo taken in the empty house by a researcher’s camera following the Lutzes’ sudden departure.  A frighteningly clear image reveals a young boy with glowing eyes, possibly the spirit of DeFeo’s youngest brother, peering out from a doorway.  It made my hair stand up, as the best moments in horror movies should.  Tragically, Daniel’s scarred psyche testifies to a ghost story that is too true for comfort.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Stoker: C-
My Amityville Horror: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest, Rage Monthly Magazine and Echo Magazine.

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