For this next block of reviews, I tackle the one-shot short film that arrived in an unmarked brown paper bag as well as a documentary that misses the mark: Eviction and My Amityville Horror.
Second verse, same as the first. Let’s start off with the short.
Eviction (DIR. Uncredited)
NOTE: After the screening, I did end up finding out who directed this peculiar short film. But, to keep the spirit of the mystery within the festival, that name will go unmentioned.
For those who have seen Powell/Green horror successes like Worm and Familiar, the opening shot should be an immediate crowd-pleaser. Our main character looks at the screen and we see character actor Robert Nolan dressed as a priest. This is going to be good…
Eviction could’ve easily been re-titled The Robert Nolan Show because that’s pretty much what it is. It isn’t necessarily a visually arresting short – although the unnamed director does try his/her damnedest through lighting – but the interest of the audience rests solely on Nolan’s shoulders and, like always, he delivers.
Now when I say The Robert Nolan Show, I mean as an actor; he’s in full control. Even if we have seen him act before, we don’t look at his character as “Robert Nolan.” He’s able to separate himself from the possessed priest and make his performance into a gut-wrenching portrayal of someone who is wrestling a dangerous demon.
He sits down in a special chair in front of the camera and for the next nine minutes, we see Father Grimes try to exorcise himself. We’re viewing the documented footage.
Nolan monologues but it’s a damn good monologue. The writing successfully portrays Grimes as a calm and coherent person but then is able to shift into a creepily playful other self. It also helps that Nolan can pull this transition off on a flip of a dime. The sinister facial expressions he makes as he contorts his face are fantastically frightful.
There’s not much else to say about Eviction but it does make you shiver towards the end. I won’t say whether Grimes accomplishes this self-exorcism but the last line, as well as a quick and “handy” background supporting performance, will make you wish the “found footage” was a couple minutes longer.
That’s not a complaint aimed at the mysterious director. It’s an eager thumbs-up citing that he/she is doing a terrific job with their filmmaking.
When reading the synopsis for Eric Walter’s My Amityville Horror, a documentary that sits down with Daniel Lutz who has lived in the infamous Amityville, NY house, it’s hard not to expect some spooky storytelling.
Lutz has been silent for almost 40 years about the events that took place in the house, although many news articles, movies, and even his family have been quite vocal about what happened in that alleged haunted house. With this latest doc, Lutz intends to tell his side of the story. His story should be every definition of the word “riveting” but My Amityville Horror is following another itinerary; one that moviegoers may not see coming.
I’ll get this out of the way now: Lutz is not a fun person to listen to. The events and hauntings that took place inside the house are obviously sensitive subjects to him; as they should be. He’s also quite sensitive about talking about his family and his step-father who was heavily intrigued with the supernatural; as he should be. I think using film as a medium for him to vent and come to terms with closure is a step forward for Lutz, and it makes for interesting subject matter for moviegoers and for a filmmaker as passionate as Walter.
That said, Lutz is an aggressive guy. He’s either an aggressive guy at heart or the documentary has made him out to be an intimidating person. He barks and swears at the film crew, doctors, and practically anyone who asks him a question that doesn’t sit well with him. A lot of this is shown within that first act and it gets to a point where, as a moviegoer, I got fed up. I said to myself, “Y’know what? This guy isn’t ready to confront this past, let alone talk about it on camera. All he’s doing is getting upset and taking on this uncomfortable in-your-face approach to this project.”
And, you sit in your seat wondering if this documentary would’ve been better if Lutz had taken a little more time to realize what questions he would be asked and how Walter would get the answers for his documentary. I’m aware he’s had 40 years to confront his past but when the subject matter is this personal, it takes all the time in the world for the subject to be comfortable enough to talk about these topics and let the world in.
After we hear his side of the story, we then see the interviewer asking doctors and an older news crew about the infamous house. These interviews, at the start, are engrossing. The news anchor says he never saw anything super unusual about the house and the doctors suggest something that almost seems like a rarity: maybe Daniel Lutz and his family are making up these spiritual happenings.
At a young age, Daniel saw a lot of what his step-father was interested in. The doctors suggest that Lutz may have been a victim of suggestion as a child. By him seeing his step-father’s books about evil spirits and by him hearing about his step-father’s ability to make things levitate, maybe Daniel has let his imagination get the best of him. Maybe he believes what he heard really happened.
I have no problem with a documentary turning on its subject. I shouldn’t even say “turning,” but “revealing possible faults.” Just look at Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen’s The Kid Stays in the Picture. One minute film producer Robert Evans seems like a rootable underdog, then a sleazebag, then back to a go-getter.
The problem with My Amityville Horror is that its unbalanced. You can’t ask audience members to make their own decisions about the topic when you have the skeptic side so whoppingly heavy. Walter’s thesis may have changed mid-production, but the film still throws the final word to the audience. Is Lutz telling the truth or are the skeptics correct? If anyone decides to stick with Lutz’s opinion, they’re made out to feel as equally crazy as he might be.
Towards the end of the film, Daniel says, “I just wanted to someone to listen to me,” and he isn’t pandering for sympathy. Even though Daniel has come off as a jerk, this is a cry of desperation that makes us feel bad for doubting him.
Do I believe Daniel? Do I believe the doctors? All I know is that those conceived doubtful notions the film backs up confidently now feels like bullying towards its subject. That doesn’t sit right at all.
No one really knows for sure what happened in the house. We do, however, have little tidbits of information here and there, a documentary that isn’t sure how to deliver these tidbits, and ultimately, a major cinematic buzzkill.
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