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Review: ‘My Amityville Horror’ Is A Disturbing Mixture Of The Paranormal And The Psychological

Review: 'My Amityville Horror' Is A Disturbing Mixture Of The Paranormal And The Psychological

In 1975, George and Kathy Lutz (along with Kathy’s three children from a previous marriage), moved into a huge house in Amityville, a tiny Long Island suburb. In less than a month, the family would abandon their possessions and leave the house, later claiming it had been the source of a number of supernatural disturbances – including the appearance of a floating, wolf-headed pig; demonic possession; and swarms of ghostly black flies. (The events were immortalized in a supposedly nonfiction book by Jan Anson that has been adapted a number of times for the big screen.) In “My Amityville Horror,” Daniel Lutz, Kathy’s oldest boy (he legally changed his name when George married his mom), talks, for the first time, openly and at length about what he experienced in that house. The results are a disturbing mixture of paranormal ghost story and psychological unease.

The film begins with Daniel Lutz sitting at a table, dramatically lit like he’s about to be interrogated (which, in a way, he is). Lutz seems visibly disturbed and agitated and says that there’s a reason that he hasn’t spoken publicly about the events of the so-called Amityville Horror in over 35 years – it still freaks him out. Brief background is provided on the house itself – a little over a year before the Lutzes moved in, Ronald DeFeo Jr., a troubled youth and experimental drug user, shot and killed six members of his family while they were sleeping (none of them woke up while the others were being killed, adding to the spookiness). Lutz says that his parents told them about the house’s history as they were moving in and asked the kids to give an immediate response to whether or not they wanted to live there.

Almost immediately, Lutz claims, strange stuff started to happen, beginning on their moving day when a local priest and friend of the family gave the house an extensive blessing, trying to ward off evil spirits. Lutz, from the beginning, is a gripping narrator. Later you find out that, after the family left, Daniel became dissatisfied with his home life and took off, abandoning his family and essentially becoming a drifter. (He tells a psychologist, later in the movie, that he lived “in the desert.”) Daniel has about a middle-school education (if that) but his inarticulateness adds to the gruff, homespun magnetism of his tale. His sentences are punctuated by “fucks” and stutters. It does more than just draw you in; the effect borders on mesmerism.

Little by little, more is revealed of Lutz’s home life, with the movie eventually tightening its focus to center on his relationship with George Lutz, a vain, controlling man who kept his family on a tight leash. Daniel claims that George was abusive, both verbally and physically, and as the stories wear on, Daniel’s stories seem less like tales of supernatural terror and more like the coping mechanism of a young boy who has been sexually assaulted by a parental figure. At some point, Daniel speculates that George brought the psychic phenomenon on the family, implying that he dabbled in Satanism and the dark arts (based largely on George’s hippy dippy book collection and a half-remembered story of George levitating an object in his garage). At some point it doesn’t even matter if ghosts terrorized the Lutz family, because Daniel believes it so wholeheartedly, and listening to him tell his tale becomes its own kind of truth.

Director Eric Walter breaks up the intensity of Lutz’s monologue by having him interact with various figures – a new psychologist, a reporter who initially covered the story, and, most electrically, Lorraine Warren, one half of New England’s most revered and infamous paranormal investigators (she also attended to the house many years before). Most of these people haven’t seen Daniel since he was a little kid and are clearly taken aback by the aged, bald man he’s become. But they’re all happy to see him and the conversation always develops quickly and naturally. Daniel’s earnestness shines through in these interactions, like when he’s consoling Lorraine on the death of her husband, but so does his quick temper and low IQ. When he’s inside the Warrens’ home, going through their basement, which is full of occult knickknacks and cursed items, he turns to the camera and says, “This shit is crazy.” What’s less clear is how crazy Daniel is.

Daniel’s psychic scars are thick and chunky and not fully healed, but he can recite the version of events popularized in American culture in exacting detail, including the spatial geography of where certain things manifested themselves (all from spending less than a month there). He even claims that the malevolent spirits followed him outside of the house as he made his way through the world. This is the moment when the literal and metaphoric blur, hopelessly, and “My Amityville Horror” takes on a singularly unnerving power. Daniel’s childhood demons are an impossible combination of supposed paranormal horror, true crime ghastliness, and childhood abuse. In the inferno that is his mind, they’ve become interlocked, and in the movie based on his life, they are essential and wholly riveting. [A-]

This is a reprint of our review from Doc NYC.

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