July 31, 2010

The New Daughter (2009)

"A single father moves his two children to rural South Carolina, only to watch his daughter exhibit increasingly strange behaviour."

This may surprise you because I completely disagree with all the negative reviews that "The New Daughter" has received. I thought it was a beautifully made film that only suffers slightly from having a PG-13 rating.

I even listened to the commentary by Luis Berdejo, the Spanish director (and one of the co-writers for "[Rec]"), and I usually never bother with any of the extras like that on my DVDs. I just like to watch the film and if something needs to be explained then I simply consider it to be poor filmmaking and rate it down accordingly.

I didn't actually need to have anything explained to me with "The New Daughter" though. It was a pretty straightforward horror movie with an '80s feel and fantastic set dressing and camerawork. I only put it on again with the commentary running because I was interested in how some of the shots were achieved and why the movie looked as good as it it did. I learned a lot actually. Did you realise, for instance, that there were hardly any red objects in the film at all? Nor did I. Maybe I should listen to more of these commentaries in future.

Before I begin my review, you need to know that I am neither a Spanish horror movie fan or much of a Kevin Costner supporter. I have seen quite a few Kevin Costner films but always considered him to be a bit wooden. In "The Untouchables" his monotone delivery was perfect but in everything else I've just found him to be dull. That actually changed with this film though because he was actually quite a warm and sympathetic character. I liked him.

Also because I've seen a lot of Spanish movies, not necessarily horror, I always dread watching yet another one full of grubby orange and brown hues. I don't know if it's the climate that makes Spanish directors want to turn everything into dirty pastels or just something that's evolved for them like the slow offbeat pace of Canadian films or the overblown spectacles of Hollywood. Of course there are exceptions to this "rule" as with any other. "The Others" (yes, it's Spanish too!) and "The Orphanage" both had a lot of dark colours and blues in them as well but you very rarely see quite so much green as there was in "The New Daughter". It was a refreshing change to have the warm familiar browns inside and the bright greenery of South Carolina outside. It worked well and my eyes are still thankful.

The house in "The New Daughter" is fantastic and is really a character itself rather than just a place to film the action. I wouldn't mind living there myself. I don't know if I'm alone in this or not but I'm one of those people who loves watching families move into a new house in films just to see what they've got and how they are going to arrange everything to suit themselves. Some "critics" think of moving-in scenes as boring padding before the story gets underway but, in this case, everything helps with the characterisation. You can tell a lot about people from the way they arrange their living space and it tells you more about movie characters than any amount of forced spoken exposition ever will. From his choice of furniture to the use of an old yet solid Apple "Pismo" laptop, you can tell that Kevin Costner's character likes to have things round him that he is used to and make him feel secure. Of course the events which occur later take him out of his comfort zone and it's interesting to see his reactions.

I'm not silly enough to say that this is Kevin Costner's finest role but it is one of the better ones that he's done. Even the girl from "Pan's Labyrinth", Ivana Baquero who plays his daughter Louisa, shows a lot more potential than I would have initially given her credit for. She's underused and gets upstaged by her onscreen brother, Gattlin Griffith who plays Sam, but maybe it's because her character lacks any closeness with her other family members. She isn't really the lead even though you would think it from the film's title. This is very much a Costner-centric film.

If you want an idea of what "The New Daughter" is about then think of it as derivative of the Amityville sequels mixed with a healthy dollop of M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs". It's not ghosts, demons or even aliens this time but there is an obligatory Indian burial mound and there are also some pretty good monsters for you. As a PG rated movie there isn't much in the way of blood, guts and gore but there's enough. It has a great atmosphere and some outstanding background music which really make the scary scenes a lot better than some horror movie review sites would have you believe.

Although there isn't much action and the film really could have been at least another hour longer to make up for it, what you get is perfectly adequate. There are no big terrifying jump scares and you don't see nearly enough of the monsters but you could say the same about "Signs" too and everybody likes that film even though it's just about boring old aliens at the end of the day.

What makes "The New Daughter" work as a horror for me is the feeling of inescapable fate which the story presents. The James family are not the first to go through all this trauma and the ending, although open to a little bit of personal choice, suggests that they won't be the last either.

It's all very cleverly worked out with parallels, foreshadowings and absolute in your face horror movie clich├ęs and formulas which just work. Using every plot device, from the family pet getting killed (why does it always have to be a cat lately?) to tracking down an old creepy and possibly insane guy who has been through all this himself, may scream unoriginality to some people but the way it is done is certainly very polished and well presented.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that this really was an outstanding movie for the target audience. 'The New Daughter" is not going to satisfy any hardcore gorehounds, but teenagers and "old school horror movie" fans will realise just how much Luis Berdejo loves the genre and buy into it too. As somebody who watches a lot of bad movies just to find a few good ones, this was a very classy offering which didn't disappoint me at all.

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