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Friday, May 7, 2010

THE NEW DAUGHTER -- DVD review by porfle

Not a particularly terrifying movie, THE NEW DAUGHTER (2009) is still a pretty good effort that manages some suspense and a few chills along the way.

Somewhere near a small rural town (I didn't catch the location but it doesn't really matter) a divorced father, his 7-year-old son Sam, and his 14-year-old daughter Louisa move into a big two-storey house in the woods. John James (Kevin Costner) is a successful writer who is now forced to become a successful father while his kids deal with acute abandonment issues since their mother now wants nothing to do with them.

Rebellious Louisa has the usual adolescent girl problems, but after becoming obsessed with a strange burial mound she finds in the woods her behavior grows increasingly erratic and bizarre. Weird noises in the night and glimpses of shadowy creatures darting between the trees prompt Dad to do a little research on the place, discovering that the house has a bad history that may be repeating itself with his daughter.

Kevin Costner is still one of the least expressive big-name actors ever, which actually fits this rather leisurely film and Costner's numbed-by-life character pretty well. Director Luis Berdejo takes his sweet time letting the ominous mood build slowly and gradually (some may find the film unbearably slow) as Louisa's behavior and the eerie events surrounding her become more and more unsettling. This makes the creepier moments more effective, as when Louisa, after returning from a secret nocturnal prowl, sits trancelike in the bathtub covered in mud and scratches, or when Dad discovers her sleepwalking with a makeshift straw doll in her hand.

Dad's investigations uncover some weird facts about unexplained burial mounds and, more disturbingly, the fate of another young girl who once lived in the house. (Familiar character actor James Gammon, who played Charlie Goodnight in STREETS OF LAREDO, does a nice turn as her creepy grandfather.) Some of the scenes in which the secluded house seems haunted by spindly figures flitting around in the shadows reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan's SIGNS, along with other vague similarities.

Unfortunately, the film so effectively builds up the mystery that it finds itself unable to come up with a really satisfying resolution to it all (with the kind of final blackout sting that I never liked in the first place) and becomes, in the end, just another monster movie. These are some pretty good monsters, though, rendered not in cartoony CGI but with good old-fashioned masks and body suits. Director Berdejo wisely doesn't give us a good look at them until much later in the film, staging some tense death scenes that allow us to use our imaginations instead of splattering the screen with gore.

Samantha Mathis, no longer the ingenue but still cute as ever, is a welcome presence as an understanding school teacher who tries to help the family through their difficulties and gets more than she bargained for. HOTEL CALIFORNIA's Erik Palladino appears briefly as a local cop whose investigation into the case hits a nasty snag. Ivana Baquero gives a skillful performance as Louisa, while young Gattlin Griffith is very good as the timid and troubled Sam. Javier Navarette provides a suitably spooky and melancholy musical score.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include a director's commentary, a theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, and a featurette, "The New Daughter: Behind the Scenes."

THE NEW DAUGHTER is the kind of film that holds your interest well enough while you're watching it, but chances are that, aside from some effective jump scares and an ominous atmosphere, you won't find it particularly memorable. All in all, though, not a bad flick.

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Anonymous said...

I love any movie that has Kevin Costner. He is so sexy and talented. He handles intense scenes very handily, unlike your jab at him that he does not. So many roles he's taken had Oscar award written all over them, but mainly due to the negative critics continually finding a reason to make him the whipping boy all the time, people have misjudged him because of this. Critics should take the roles themselves and try to deliver if they think they're so much better. You'd be picking up Razzies faster than my dog eats his chow chow. Leave Kevin Costner alone. He's the best.

Porfle Popnecker said...

I agree with most of what you said, but I wouldn't even call my comment a "jab", really. Costner's an extremely low-key actor, which, as I said, fit the character here.

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

You can read about the details of this movie on Wikipedia, but you can't get the same horror from reading about it. When you see this ending make note: John ignites the diesel feul/ammonium nitrite while he and Louisa are right next to it. That confused me. Why blow themselves up? Then it later dawned on me that old Roger Wayne did start a fire that destroyed his granddaughter. Why? Well a day after seeing this movie it dawned on me and totally grossed me out. Louisa wasn't just "nabbed" by the monsters, she was pregnant and was going to be used by them. And that must have been why old Wayne burned his gr-daughter. There's lots of families that have children that "aren't normal" or "deranged". You can live with that. But old Wayne must have seen she had been used by the creatures and could not watch her birth a monster so he burned her.

There was a reason Sam kept talking about ants. And that Samantha Mathis gives her cutesy and so-innocent science lesson about the ant colony and the queen laying its eggs and so forth, because we're supposed to see this "mound" as a nest of human-like monsters that live like insects and then realize what they need from Louisa. Yuck! But that's the reason they did not pick out Sam, or any men (not until John begins planting high explosive drums and threatens their mound -- that's when they got violent.

At the end we see Louisa start to "appear" monster-like. But I don't think that's why John lit the fire. I think the real reason was that she was pregnant. The plot takes place over a span of weeks, and she does start vomiting, something like morning sickness.

This film is disgusting. In a horror film way. I'd say it's a success. And it's subtle in a way a book could not be. I don't think you'd get as revolted by reading the screenplay.

Louisa was trapped, raped/deflowered, and made into a human "queen ant" for terrible monsters. Sickko! But it didn't really dawn on me until much later. But they don't come right out and say any of this.

The film is not scary for what it shows. It's scary for what it did NOT show. The acting was NOT Oscar material. But the filming and directing were great. It worked as a horror movie. It allowed my own imagination to operate. This was a mature movie and unless you have an active adult imagination it's going to be really boring. But I like this director, I'm going to look up his other stuff.

Porfle Popnecker said...

Very interesting insights on the film--thanks!