THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (R, 89 minutes)
In this better-than-workmanlike remake of the 1979 horror hit (and cautionary tale for home buyers), the characters most put at risk are children. And the risks they face are harrowing as they escalate -- verbal abuse, threats and an evermore demonically possessed, shotgun-toting stepfather. They also endure appearances by bloodied, bullet-riddled ghosts of murder and torture victims. That's enough to make "The Amityville Horror" unsuitable for high schoolers under 16. In addition, the movie includes blood-splattered flashbacks of a son slaughtering his family, including younger siblings. The children's deaths are not shown fully on camera but are strongly implied, and the bloody aftermath is shown. Other icky elements include the murder of a pet, swarming flies and maggots, a suicide theme, an explicit sexual situation with implied semi-nudity, teen drug use and profanity.
Inspired by actual incidents from the 1970s, the movie begins with a prologue showing the previous occupants of a big, sinister-looking Victorian house in Amityville, Long Island, gunned down in their sleep by a teenage son. A year later, George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds), his new wife, Kathy (Melissa George), and her three kids (Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett and Chloe Grace Moretz) move in, delighted at the modest price. Mom and stepdad know of the killings but don't tell the kids. Soon, though, little Chelsea (Moretz) meets Jodie (Isabel Conner), the ghost of the dead family's youngest child. And George begins to hear voices and get mean. The local priest (Philip Baker Hall) is no help, so Kathy and her kids, after 28 days in the house, must stop the evil spiral.
Though it still takes place in the 1970s, minus cell phones and computers, "The Amityville Horror" has a nice, nervous, cynical, modern edge that will resonate with the 16-and-older crowd. The plot has holes, and some ideas are brazenly lifted from horror icons such as "The Exorcist" (R, 1973) and "The Shining" (R, 1980), but the movie still has its own gritty, fast-moving style.