New Kid on the Block
It's been a long time since Kevin Costner had graced the screens here, so much so that this 2009 film was given one of the honours of being amongst a slate of movies for the inaugural Screen Singapore preview lineup for the public. After all, interest would likely have piqued since it's a horror thriller, as well as Costner himself being cast as Pa Kent in the upcoming Man of Steel movie, demonstrating his career is not that quite written off yet. Still, The New Daughter served up something quite average as far as haunted houses and possessed children went, although having its atmospherics something to boast about.
Directed by Luiso Berdejo, who's better known as one of the writers for the successful REC franchise (the 4th film is rumoured to be in pre-production with the 3rd film due for a release later this year), The New Daughter may have benefitted more from a less chunky title, as the story, based upon the short story by John Connolly, deals with family more than that of an individual family member. Costner plays John James, a writer who's recently divorced from his cheating wife, and uproots his family of teenage daughter Louisa (Ivana Baquero) and son Sam (Gattlin Griffith) from their friends and the city, to settle in a quaint little town, taking up residence at a house in the middle of nowhere.
No thanks to a shady real estate agent, what he thought would be the start of a new idyllic life with his children, turned out to be quite the nightmare, especially when he learns of the plight of the sellers of the house. But that's not before finding a strange mount near his backyard where his daughter takes a fondness to in hanging out on, only for suggestive violations to be played out in bits and pieces, also told through metaphors about how an ant colony operates. For the most parts we see how Louisa turns from slightly rebellious teen to full blown defiance, often resorting to cruel, evil acts against those who stand in her way, be it the bully in class (who deserves it by the way), or a schoolteacher (Samantha Mathis) whom she deems is taking some attention and affection away from her father.
Whatever the case is, this makes for the usual tricks in the bag when dealing with what I would deem as a monster movie, complete with doors left ajar, dismembered animals and bodies, and shadowy figures that will reveal themselves in due course. Narratively Luiso Berdejo managed to keep up the suspense throughout, even though the characters seem to be unable to break out of the formulaic cycle where father is in denial until it's too late, and the youngest child in the house almost always being the victim for seeing things he's not supposed to, or by default being the punching bag and fearful of telling on someone. While Costner has the film revolving around him as the only recognizable star, Ivana Baquero is the other cast member to watch, although her character here happened to be not as menacing as Isabelle Fuhrman's Esther in Orphan as comparisons between the two are obvious.
The final act was promising as things kick into high gear with the very sketchy tie in to some ritual and ancient beliefs about mount-walkers, followed by an almost half hour worth of action that fell onto the running theme of a father's love and promise made to a child no matter what the consequences are, and in all honesty all seemed well to lift this beyond mediocre, only for the final scene to tank its promising potential right down to the bottom of the barrel. You can attribute it to the director's inexperience, or the story being just too hasty and zealous in wanting to keep things open ended, that made it quite the farce and an insult to the viewer, coupled with its blatant attempt in trying to be forcefully emotional.
The New Daughter would have benefited from a more intelligent ending that didn't expose its shortcomings so starkly. Be warned especially when films like these don't get a proper wide theatrical release overseas but do here, where we give it a lot more respect than being relegated to its straight to DVD potential. Had promise, but failed to deliver where and when it mattered.