So, at the start ofย Amityville: No Escape, this bullshit happens:

And there's a lot we could say about that, no doubt, but I'll tell you what really gets to me: "inauspicious?" Yeah, I mean that's one word for it. Assuming that the haunting is what ruins an otherwise elegant dinner party, or something.

Point #2 is that even by the standards of found footage horror movies (shockingly, this is only the second of the cheapie Amityvilles to go that route, after The Amityville Haunting in 2011), this one really gave me a case of The Blair Witch Project flashbacks, and this turns out to be precisely correct. We have here a group of young people heading into the woods outside of a small town on the Atlantic seaboard famous for being haunted, with an eye towards making a documentary. That's, like... exactly the same as The Blair Witch Project, though Amityville: No Escape shakes things up by stranding five characters in the woods instead of three. And that's not altogether the end of the differences, though the overlaps are startling and pervasive. It's more of a clone even than the lumbering official sequel Blair Witch, which premiered only a few weeks later in 2016 than No Escape did.

At any rate, for all it sounds like I'm pissing and moaning, the delightful surprise is that No Escape ends up being surprisingly good by the standards of the 2010s direct-to-video Amityvilles. Or, for that matter, by the standards of found footage horror still being made in the year of our Lord 2016. Note that in both cases, these standards are trash, and "surprisingly good" still leaves lots of room for "but it's still, like, bad". Still, I would have assumed without giving it another moment's thought that by this point in the deluge of craven microbudget horror pictures buying some free publicity by plugging the word "Amityville" into the title, the odds of getting a genuinely great character brought to life in a genuinely great performance were astronomically unfavorable.

And yet here we are, with Lina, played by Julia Gomez in what the IMDb claims (as of this writing) to be her second and final performance in filmed media. And when I said that there were other differences between No Escape and The Blair Witch Project, this was the big one I was hiding. No Escape is really two entirely different movies cross-cutting throughout, only loosely connected in the first and last scenes (the last scene being a particularly dumb twist). One of these is the story of George (Josh Miller), who is making a documentary about fear, and how better to explore fear than by dropping a bunch of his friends into the woods outside the most haunted town in America (a claim never made for Amityville outside of these movies)? So that's how his sister Elizabeth (Allison Egan), her friend Sarah (Joni Durian), cameraman Simon (Michael William Ralston), and his friend Lisa (Alia Gabrielle Eckhardt), all end up tagging along, with at least Lisa being confused as hell what's going on before it starts. It's all uninspired, though it has this going for it: it's conceptually sound, something that virtually none of these first-person movies have been since the turn of the 2010s. I mean, if the whole point is to film scary shit, then obviously they're going to bother getting out the cameras when scary shit happens.

(The indication that this was made by the local PD for the purpose of commercial exploitation is... odd).

The other movie is the story of our good pal Lina, who bought the house in 1997, while her husband was away in the military, and has taken to recording video diaries so that he can feel like he was with her when "they" moved in. And by the house, I mean the house: "112 Ocean Avenue" is never said, but "a boy possessed by demons killed his whole family here in 1974" is. No mean feat given that the internal architecture suggests that the location that the filmmakers snagged is a suburban tract house from the late '70s or early '80s.

So we watch Lina, as she chats with her husband, catches him up on the increasingly strange events in the house - those pesky dead flies, for example - and does aerobics for no aesthetically comprehensible reason. And this would be a lot of nothing, except that Gomez is just fucking terrific: a little too zany, perhaps, and maybe just a touch too much of the 2010s instead of the 1990s. But watching her animated face and hands, and listening to her flexible tone of voice, she comes across as a magnetic life force and then some. You want to hang out with this woman - you want to get plowed on red wine and eat a whole thing of store-bought cookies as she talks about the noises that keep her up at night. And directly as a result of Gomez's high-energy performance, the changes that crawl over her face, and are heard in her voice become actually pretty distressing. In a non-franchise that has been uniquely bad at introducing characters who are actually likeable, No Escape is a triumph: finally, 37 years on, there's a person being fucked over by the Amityville house and it makes me extremely upset to see her getting fucked over. It's a reminder that horror movies are actually capable of being good, something rather easy to lose track of in this Amityville death spiral.

I mean, it's still a pretty disposable movie: in the whole of the 2016 plotline, there's nothing really to grab onto except some trashily effective jump scares and one amazingly bad performance from Ira Gansler, as the spooky old man in the woods who keeps popping up. Just because it's less of a shitty found-footage movie than the average, that doesn't magically make it a good found-footage movie. Still, at this point I'll take what I can get, and the fact that half of No Escape kind of made me happy to be watching it is a gods-be-damned miracle.

Reviews in this series
The Amityville Horror (Rosenberg, 1979)
Amityville II: The Possession (Damiani, 1982)
Amityville 3-D (Fleischer, 1983)
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (Stern, 1989)
The Amityville Curse (Berry, 1990)
Amityville 1992: It's About Time (Randel, 1992)
Amityville: A New Generation (Murlowski, 1993)
Amityville Dollhouse (White, 1996)
The Amityville Horror (Douglas, 2005)
The Amityville Haunting (Meed, 2011)
My Amityville Horror (Walter, 2012)
The Amityville Asylum (Jones, 2013)
The Amityville Playhouse (Walker, 2015)
Amityville: Vanishing Point (Greenberg, 2016)
The Amityville Terror (Angelo, 2016)
Amityville: No Escape (Couto, 2016)
Amityville Exorcism (Polonia, 2017)
Amityville: The Awakening (Khalfoun, 2017)

Not reviewed at this time
Amityville Death House (Polonia, 2015)
The Amityville Legacy (Ferguson and Johnson, 2016)
Amityville: Evil Never Dies (Ferguson, 2017)