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A Maybe-not-so ‘New Daughter’

2010/06/09

I’ve come to realize that I’ve always kind of liked Kevin Costner.  He’s an amiable enough guy, love his early work in The Untouchables and No Way Out – hell, I even enjoy watching Waterworld once in a while just for how unabashedly ridiculous it was in scope and execution.  It’s just that, after that Bull Durham, Dances With Wolves and JFK run, he just got too big way too fast to not suffer some backlash and a significant drop in popularity. 

That said, I was still a little surprised a couple of weeks back when I saw on the front of a local Redbox the upcoming release of a movie he headlines that I’d never even heard of called The New Daughter.  Could Eliot Ness have actually slid down to Val Kilmer territory?  Really?  He didn’t seem like that big of a douche back in the day….

But to give him the benefit of the doubt, I am finding more and more ‘straight-to-DVD’ offerings that aren’t as horrifying as that label used to brand a film.  Case in point, that’s kind of the at the core of why we started this site – to find some things that slipped through the cracks.  Anywho, seeing that this Costner vehicle was listed as a ‘supernatural thriller’, it went right to the top of the Netflix queue.  And for the record, this was released to theaters, apparently, late last year, though I don’t recall seeing one trailer for it, so that should probably say something.

So what’s The New Daughter all about?  In my estimation, it’s about cribbing as many notes from past supernatural thrillers as possible without being taken to court for theft of intellectual property. Not that that’s a huge issue, really.

The set-up is so:  a recently divorced father, who is also a successful writer, moves with his sorta-estranged children to the biggest-ass old country house in the middle of nowhere outside of a small town in order to start over.  Soon after arriving, his family, and particularly his older daughter begin to experience all sorts of eerie experiences, most importantly the radical changes affecting the girl.  There’s at minimum six plot points or character definitions in those two sentences alone that are direct lifts from previous haunted house offerings including, but not limited to, The Amityville Horror (both versions! The good one and the one with Ryan Reynolds!), Hide and Seek, The Uninvited, An American Haunting, The Orphanage…..I’ll stop there.

Why did Costner’s character John James get divorced?  Wife left him for being distant.  Why does his older daughter resent him?  His fault that ‘Mom’ ran off with a younger guy.  Local schoolmarm show an over-exuberant interest in the kids AND John?  Check.  Who put a loaded shotgun in the back of the piano that was left behind in the house? AHA!  Now we’ve gotten past all the pointless ‘character development’ and we’re getting to the fun!

 Really, I don’t care if the whole story is lifted, it really doesn’t matter in a movie I’ve obtained for the sole purpose of making me jump, if it can.  And does it?  Well, more than I expected, certainly.  There are a good half-dozen good jumpers in here, two or three clever ‘did you catch that’ camera tricks, and one scene that just got my stomach all taught and a little nauseous from the tension.  I’d mark that as mission accomplished.

I doubt I’ll remember much about The New Daughter in a year or so, but that’s not a crime, it just makes it average.  It’s not the scariest thing I’ve ever seen, but I did find it far superior to well over half of the films I’ve mentioned it stole from, so it was time I don’t regret spending at all.  If the lasting effect of any supernatural film involves turning some lights on and watching something ‘fun’ for half-an-hour before going to sleep, it’s hit the mark, and The New Daughter reaches that point.  All things told, I think it’s a lot like watching a really good episode of The X-Files used to feel like, and that’s enough in my book to get it a 4 out of 7.

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