I’ve been a fan of horror flicks for several decades but in the last several years the genre has taken a regrettable turn to the mediocre. At this point I have to give some extra credit to any horror movie that makes an honest attempt to deviate from the standard motif of drugged out, over sexed teens meandering around s deserted woodland while hunted by some genetically deficient inbreed serial killer. This may not seem like a whole lot to ask but in the current horror landscape it is an insurmountable obstacle. Because of this a film such as ‘The New Daughter’ comes across as better than its story would otherwise be considered. I don’t know but Kevin Costner is an excellent actor who has been lamentably stereotyped as picking less than successful movies. In this film Costner faces the things that go bump in the night bringing to bear a level of professionalism that has not been seen in this type of movie in a very long time. His performance is even enough to help offset a fairly derivative story. Horror films have become like the waves on a beach; the keep rolling in at regular intervals each exactly the same as every other one. ‘The New Daughter’ is a bright spot that stands out from the pack as a hope for change back to when the genre had something to offer the audience; genuine entertainment. I admit that I started watching with less than the best expectations but I was truly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The movie will not go down in the annals of the genre as one of the greats but it is a return to spooky storytelling and provides a very entertaining evening. One thing that is evident here is the film makers are more seasoned professionals instead of new comers using the genre as a quick way to get started in the film industry.
The script by John Travis was based in a short story from Irish detective author John Connolly. This most likely had a positive impact on the overall feel and sense of the film. A short story from a writer accustomed to inventing mysteries affords a much better background for a horror film than is usually seen of late. This script does have aspects that border on the overly familiar but with a bit of deeper consideration an excellent story comes out. It reminded me of the old EC horror comics or perhaps a scary story told around a summer’s campfire. That is to the point in accomplishing its purpose of engaging and subsequently frightening the audience. You have the standard elements including the proverbial ancient burial ground and related spirit possession but in this case it is the journey that matters most; how the story is told outweighing the details of the tale. There is more craftsmanship evident here than any of the standard issue ‘slash and dash’ films that most young people think represent horror movies. Having a mystery writer as the prime source was an excellent decision; it provides a greater psychological core to the story permitting a better chance for the audience to become emotionally vested with the characters. The scriptwriter, John Travis , has only one prior script, ‘The Haunting of Molly Hartley’, which depended on some of the same themes employed here; angst as a result of a teenage girl being uprooted from her friends and school. Many horror films use teen girls at the center of the action but here the young actress is required to emote and build a believable character instead of just screaming and getting naked. What a concept; expecting an actress to act, this just might catch on.
The director, Luis Berdejo has some experience helming Spanish movies but more to the point here has written the horror film ‘[REC]’which was recently Americanized as ‘Quarantine’. This experience seems to have given Berdejo a well developed sense of pacing a story like this for the greatest emotional payoff. Unlike many American fright masters Berdejo is not put off by the pressure to rush things with a cheap visceral scare. This story is designed to simmer, building anticipation in the audience leaving us clamoring for the resolution. When blended with the mystery roots inherent in the construction of the story the results are actually quite remarkable.
One thing that is vital to horror is to give the audience a setting they can readily identify with so that when the terror begins the fully empathize with the characters, in a delightful change from a bunch of teens better off excluded from the gene pool here we have a nice fairly normal, single parent family. John James (Kevin Costner) is a recently divorced writer with custody of his two children, moody teen daughter Louisa (Ivana Baquero) and her younger brother Sam (Gattlin Griffith). Apparently the split was due to infidelity on mom’s part so Dad decides to relocate the family to rural South Carolina. It is a beautiful, big old house but Louisa is angry at her parents, the move, well just about everything. Dad really didn’t help by not realizing delivery out in the boonies is scarce leaving them with jerky for their first family dinner in their new home. The first clue that something is wrong is a subtle one; Sam discovers a shotgun hidden in the piano. Louisa must really miss her friends since the next day she goes out to play with seven year old Sam. The plot of the movie has her acting increasingly strange but if you ever had a teenage daughter willing fraternization with a younger brother would have to count as downright supernatural. These little slice of life moments do a great job of properly setting the stage for what is about to happen. The kids discover a large mound of earth behind the house. Louisa is intrigued by it but Sam gets an immediate bad feeling from it. At this point they should remember the advice of as good friend of mine; ‘do not disturb the ancient evil you moron’.
It’s kind of difficult to tell if as teen girl under these conditions is possessed or just angry t the world but Baquero does an excellent job exploring her character. She is believably pretty not one of these new actresses that seemed to be bred for perfection in looks at the cost of emotional content. Baquero give Louisa depth and dimension not often seen in the genre. Costner is rather laid back in the first act of the film getting moved to action in response to the necessity to save his family. Overall the film is a sleeper hit that is a cut above the rest.