When a broken family moves to a remote area down a lonely dirt road, they seem to be surprised to find a huge Indian burial mound, supernatural neighbors, and an unbeatable ancient curse — I guess they didn't read the fine print in their rental contract. Or see The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, Scalps, etc.
In spite of the clichés, The New Daughter stands above the usual direct-to-disc fare thanks to its high-profile cast led by Kevin Costner (honestly, the material is beneath him but he never brings anything less than his all to this character whom we've already seen in 1,000 other movies) and young Ivana Baquero (who was so amazing in Pan's Labyrinth a few years back) is, while not altogether believable was his daughter (though that's addressed in the dialogue), good. Samantha Mathis has a small but important role, and the younger sibling Sam is played by Gattlin Griffith (Changeling), and he's good also — not your typical whiny movie-kid. The dynamic is mostly between these four throughout the film.
The story starts and plays out mostly as one might expect, but the finale is tad different and there worth waiting for (or fast-forwarding to). At the start, we're introduced to the Lutz family, er, I mean Freeling… no, it's the James', as they file into the huge, lonely plantation-style mansion in the middle of nowhere. Petulant teen Louisa hates it already, Sam is intrigued, and recently-divorced daddy John seems resigned. Soon enough, sister and brother go exploring and they find a strange mound. (Not strange enough; I couldn't really tell what it was at first, nor did it seem ominous enough for a horror thriller.) Louisa starts acting strangely, John gets worried and begins a worm-can opening investigation, while Sam mostly cowers. Good times.
So, The New Daughter isn't exactly original — missing cat? Check. Ancient curse everyone in town knows about but doesn't talk about? Check. Previous tenants left in a hurry? Check. Daughter's strange behavior attributed to hormones? Check. Babysitter murdered? Check. Professor from local university with all the answers? Check. And so on — but it's very nicely photographed, well-acted, and employs (mostly… not enough) practical effects for the Descent-like monsters who show up in the third act.
Now, that's where this movie deviates from the norm: the baddies are corporeal creatures, not just the ghosts of a few disgruntled braves. Also, they don't communicate through TVs, radios or smart phones. What's more, the director is this film (Luis Berdejo, the writer of [REC]) chose to go with traditional, steady cinematography which gives The New Daughter a more timeless feel.
The characters do some incredibly dumb things (M. Night Shyamalan -dumb character things, but this flick was written by John "The Haunting of Molly Hartley" Travis) yet they're forgivable if you decide to go along for the ride. I liked seeing The New Daughter once, but won't be giving the disc another spin anytime soon.
The DVD includes deleted scenes, director commentary, and a behind the scenes featurette which displays the actors sounding off about why they were drawn to this particular story. It also features an on-set interview with the writer of the short story, John Connolly, who talks about short stories being more like a shot of espresso as opposed to drinking a whole pot of coffee. (Haven't read a word he's written, but the caffeine fiend in me loves him already!)
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson