Back in November 1974, Amityville was shocked to hear the news of 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo Jr., who murdered his parents and four younger siblings by shooting them in their sleep.
There have been some curiosities surrounding these murders as all victims were killed in the space of 15 minutes with a shotgun around 3am, but no one heard any gunshots and it would appear that none of the family members had responded to any noise at all, having all been found lying in similar positions on their stomach. There was no evidence of drugging either.
The swiftness that DeFeo Jr was able to kill his family led some to suppose that a second shooter was there on that fatefull night. It doesn’t help that DeFeo Jr’s account of that evening has changed so many times, ranging from a Mafia hit to hearing voices that drove him to murder. The latter stuck in the news and lent to the bizarre case. It also fuelled the next chapter of 112 Ocean Avenue where the murders took place when the Lutz moved in the following year, only to leave after 28 days has passed citing strange happenings and paranormal phenomena. It was this incident coupled with Jay Anson’s novel, The Amityville Horror and the subsequent feature released in 1979 that projected this story across the globe and cemented the name Amityville into the horror genre and spawned 21 movies in its name.
The latest venture, The Amityville Murders attempts to go back to the original source and the murders that were commited by DeFeo Jr.
Director Daniel Farrands, who is no stranger to the macabre with numerous documentaries based on real-life and fictional murders on his resume, tries to take his interests in shocking crimes in his first drama feature, but too often it feels like he is dragging the story along by filling in the narrative with some over-saturated and stylised dialogue. It feels a little forced and unnatural, which jars the viewing, throwing you out of the picture. The acting is left wanting and feels a little like made-for-tv movies back in the 70s or 80s before directors knew how to handle the medium with any art or integrity.
It’s only as the drama intensifies and DeFeo Jr becomes more unhinged that this choice of direction starts to slip into place and become unnerving, which is exactly as you hope to feel. Actor John Robinson, who was thrust into the limelight as an actor when he was cast in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, (a movie based on the Columbine shootings), starts off a little one-note in his performance, but as he taps into DeFeo Jr’s alleged depersonalisation disorder becomes more believable and haunting to watch. In fact, his performance at this stage keeps the viewer watching as everyone is pale and painful in comparison.
Farrands clearly knows his source material well, but he is let down by trying to weave in a dramatic storyline to the facts and feels weak as a result. Let’s hope he learns from his work on The Amityville Murders as his next two films are following a similar path looking at Sharon Tate and Nicole Brown Simpson.
Yet another instalment to the Amityville universe… and yet it fails to provide the same impact as the first time these tragic events shocked the world. Once sensationalised and then desensitised with its numerous retellings that its hard to capture that same feeling again and unfortunately director Daniel Farrands fails to administer a blip on the heart monitor. No doubt, more attempts will follow, but I’m not sure if willing to go back there again.
– Saul Muerte