Little Danny Lutz is pushing 50 now. And yet the one-time boy from Amity still cops to hearing voices. Ask him frankly what these voices represent and he’ll tell you it’s possession. Ask any other rational adult the same question, and he or she might just say that it’s a shame. And therein lies the reason My Amityville Horror feels so altogether creepy – it’s a case of arrested development masquerading as deep science.
Is it entertaining? Sure. Right up until the moment that you realize what you’re watching. Is it compelling? Well, only in so much that it exploits a grown man’s illness. If anything, My Amityville eeks by because it exposes Nixon-era occultists for the kooks they always were.
For a while there, you tend to believe that’s just the point – that 26-year old director Eric Walter is simply handing these nuts ample slack to fashion their own noose. But it doesn’t take long before you realize Walter’s making no effort to counterbalance all their claims – chief among them the idea that spooky demons live inside us. And – as such – it really doesn’t matter how effectively Mr. Walter employs light and shadow; how often he insists upon conducting interviews with faded clippings strewn about. It doesn’t matter that he pulls in tight to create a sense of intimacy; or that he pulls in fast to create a sense of emphasis … because in the end all Eric Walter is really complicit in accomplishing here is the perpetuation of an illness that has haunted the same man for well over 30 years now.
That man – or manchild – is 47-year old Danny Lutz – one of three ill-fated children who moved into a house along Amityville back in December of ’75. These days, Mr. Lutz fancies himself a bit of a hard case – still imprisoned by false notions set in motion during childhood. The majority of what Lutz passes off as supernatural could just as easily be attributed to fact (e.g., some window dropping on the young boy’s fingers; random cold spots in the kitchen; a priest coming over to bless the house, etc.). And yet, it isn’t until Danny Lutz really sets to spinning yarns full-bore that one should offer him a wider berth. For it is at this point – amidst fast talk of flying beds and hanging dogs – that Danny Lutz begins to lose it (i.e., flailing arms, constant blinking, running roughshod over facts, etc.).
And this … this is where the shame – if not the sham – of My Amityville Horror takes its toll. Because the thing is, whatever that is (or was) Mr. Lutz reportedly went through, it is more than likely not a case of the incarnate. I mean, I suppose it’s entirely possible that Danny Lutz might know exactly what he’s doing. But the more likely explanation is that all those ghosts and goblins spinning madly in his head? They represent the only coping mechanism a scared young boy has ever known. To tear down those 10-foot walls without warning might be to reduce a grown man’s world to little more than smoke and rubble.
From a filmmaker’s perspective, My Amityville rides a thin line between curiosity and exploitation. While I’m sure Eric Walter would insist that it’s on the level, it certainly does not appear that way. In fact, it feels a whole lot more like the equivalent of someone driving up to Martha’s Vineyard just to hear worthwhile tell of the great white. Walter is manipulating most of the footage here, which is fine, because raw footage has no conscience set to speak of. But he’s also dredging up some really arcane bullshit – the kind that ultimately served to tear a young family apart. I mean, sure, one might argue all is fair in love and movies. But in this case, I’m fairly sure that I’d have to disagree. For in this case, one might walk out having realized Danny Lutz just spent the first half of his life just trying to exorcise one movie, and now he’ll spend the next half just trying to exorcise another.
And, meanwhile, you just paid to watch it happen.
(My Amityville Horror opens in limited release at the IFC Center in New York City this Friday, 3/15, with a staggered national rollout to follow.)