Anchor Bay // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 7th, 2010
How far will a father go to protect the ones he loves?
"Where'd you get that from?"
John James (Kevin Costner, Swing Vote) is a divorced writer who has decided to move to a rural town in South Carolina in order to focus on his work. He brings his young son Sam (Gattlin Griffith, Couples Retreat) and his teenage daughter Louisa (Ivana Baquero, Pan's Labyrinth) with him, though they both resist the new setting initially. Sam eventually seems to get over his fear of living in a new place, but Louisa begins to demonstrate some rather strange behavior. John writes this off as typical teenage behavior for a while, but as her actions grow more disturbing he begins to dig deeper. Why does his daughter keep getting mud all over herself? Why does she seem so much less protective of her younger brother? Why is she carrying around a mysterious voodoo doll? He's certainly going to find out, but can he do anything to save her?
I'm not really sure why The New Daughter was deemed unfit for wide theatrical release, but it more or less got buried in the late 2009 movie mix. Kevin Costner may no longer be the hot property he once was, but he certainly still boasts enough star power and name recognition to anchor a major motion picture (a quick check of IMDb reveals that Costner hasn't ever headlined a very limited release...even The Upside of Anger was eventually showing in over 1,000 theatres). Also, I'll admit that the movie isn't exactly the sort of thing that's going to inspire much praise from critics, but it's certainly better than some of the horror/thrillers being released these days and no less accessible. It's just hard to figure what happened. In any case, now you can enjoy the engaging mediocrity of The New Daughter at home.
The film takes its sweet time to get going, as it spends a good chunk of the first hour simply littering signs and portents all over the place. Costner finds a voodoo doll containing a nasty-looking spider. A mysterious figure crawls up the side of the James family roof. Louisa keeps sneaking outside at night to do...something...behind the house. Costner scratches his head and looks concerned in the sort of way that any reasonable father might. It's all done with professionalism, but it's frankly a bit on the boring side (a handful of genuinely sinister bits of suspense aside). Unfortunately, just as things start to heat up, the movie begins to get a little silly.
Costner decides to investigate just what it is his daughter is messing around with in the back yard. It seems to be a big dirt mound. He calls his realtor and demands to know what's up. "Oh, it's just an old Indian burial mound," the realtor smiles. "Nothing to worry about." "Oh, is that what it is?" Costner says in the concerned tone of a man who has seen a horror movie or two in his day. Despite the fact that our protagonist seems well aware of just how bad his situation is getting (props to the screenplay for giving him a nice balance between reasonable skepticism and being willing to accept the obvious evidence placed in front of him), his knowledge doesn't seem to be terribly helpful as the film proceeds, as the circumstances surrounding his home and his daughter continue to get worse.
I don't want to give away how the film ends or what the mysterious creatures are that seem to be lurking in the background throughout the film, but it wouldn't really matter if I did. That's because most of what happens in the final half-hour is rooted in a made-up mythology that's just sort of pulled out of thin air for the sake of the plot. Even as director Luis Berdejo (the co-writer of [Rec]) begins to demonstrate some real flair for helming sequences of brooding action/horror, we can't help but shake our heads at just how ridiculous things are getting.
The DVD transfer is solid enough, conveying the muted color palette with clarity and depth. The film has a very similar look to other genre films made by Spanish directors, particularly The Orphanage and the non-fantasy portions of Pan's Labyrinth. Flesh tones are warm and accurate, detail is acceptable enough and blacks are pretty deep. Shading is respectable too, which is important giving the many darker scenes in the film. Audio is fine as well, as Javier Navarette's nerve-rattling score blends seamlessly with the sound design (interacting with it a bit on occasion, which happens all too rarely in films today). Extras include an audio commentary with Berdejo, an EPK-style making-of featurette, deleted scenes and a trailer.
To its credit, The New Daughter does a very admirable job of attempting to sell the nonsense it's peddling. Costner's performance is persuasive and admirably low-key, as the actor never condescends to the material or seems lazy. I also liked the way the film managed to stay rooted in the grim tone it establishes from start to finish, never offering easy cheats or contrived solutions to the problems of the third act. Too bad such conviction couldn't have been applied to a stronger story.
Eh, it's okay. *shrugs* Check it out if you want.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes