Anchor Bay // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 12th, 2010
How far will a father go to protect the ones he loves?
It's sort of incredible now to believe that Kevin Costner was once the biggest movie star in the country. Between the massive critical success of Dances With Wolves and the commercial success of The Bodyguard, Costner was pretty much untouchable in the early 1990s (yes, he was Untouchable in 1987, too, but that's a terrible and obvious joke). But after a string of high-profile failures such as Waterworld and The Postman, Costner's reputation was almost irreversibly tarnished. Over the next decade or so, Costner continued to work and his star continued to fall as he alternated between films that were unsuccessful but interesting (The Upside of Anger) and films that were unsuccessful and terrible (3000 Miles to Graceland).
Now, in 2010, Costner's career trajectory has reached its logical conclusion as his latest movie, the horror drama The New Daughter, essentially bypasses theatrical release altogether and goes straight to DVD and Blu-ray.
Novelist John James (Costner) has just divorced his wife and relocated his two children (played by Ivana Baquero of Pan's Labyrinth and Gattlin Griffith of Couples Retreat) to an old country home with a menacing backstory. James' daughter is immediately drawn to a mound of dirt outside the house, and, after standing on it, begins to act differently. She's quieter; meaner. Accidents begin to take place around her, which she may or may not have had a hand in. Slowly, James begins to learn the truth about the house, its previous owners, and just what that mound of dirt out back actually is. But will it be too late to save his daughter?
The New Daughter, the English-language directorial debut of Luis Berdejo (screenwriter of [REC] and its remake, Quarantine), is a decent movie that's almost terrific. Almost. It begins as one movie and ends as another, a notion that I like on paper -- it's nice when a film doesn't lay all its cards out in the opening minutes, choosing to tell a story rather than just fill in a premise. It boasts some good performances and a lot of excellent, creepy atmosphere. It also boasts toothy monsters, some very PG-13 bloodshed and creepy mounds of dirt. That, readers, is where The New Daughter loses me.
Things begin well enough, as Berdejo couches the film in the familiar while providing the slowly mounting feeling that not everything is quite right. These scenes are the best in the movie, as the changes that Baquero undergoes stand in both for the all-too-common strained relationship between a divorced father who doesn't quite know his daughter and for a teenage girl who's growing up and resembling less and less the girl she once was. The New Daughter is never heavy-handed with its metaphor, but it's pretty powerful stuff -- for a while, at least. Unfortunately, the sense of dread that the film establishes begins to give way to more and more clumsy exposition and, eventually, outright silliness. By the time the finale hits, Berdejo isn't afraid to go for broke, but his movie hasn't quite earned it. I like the idea of a film that starts off as a quietly observed domestic drama and eventually morphs into a full-blooded monster movie, but The New Daughter only gets that broad outline right. It doesn't fill in the details and, as such, that transition doesn't work. It feels more like two movies that butt up against one another.
At the very least, The New Daughter provides Kevin Costner his best role since his scruffy, boozy turn in The Upside of Anger. He's quiet and dignified without being as bland as he can often become at his worst, and even as the film gets increasingly silly and strains credibility, Costner continues to play the reality of the situation. He can only do so much, though, and that doesn't include grounding the movie enough to make it work entirely; the screenplay (based on a short story by John Connolly) takes too many shortcuts and invents too much goofy mythology for any of the performers to keep up, even though they try their darndest. Costner and Berdejo bring a lot of class to the material, and it's easy to see where in the hands of another director it would simply be schlocky from start to finish. I wish I could say more about the performance of young Ivana Baquero, who was so good at being haunted and sad in the great Pan's Labyrinth. Here, in her first English-speaking role, she doesn't get to do much more than glower. I guess she does it well.
Anchor Bay delivers a stunning Blu-ray edition of The New Daughter. The VC-1 encoded, 1080p transfer is excellent, carrying a film-like look that's incredibly warm and detailed. Black levels are deep and strong throughout until the final act, when the movie loses some of its detail -- less a result of the HD transfer than the fact that the film becomes almost oppressively dark in its denouement. The uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio track is equally strong, featuring plenty of good creepy effects that help build the tension until its time to let loose, never sacrificing the dialogue or score in the process. The technical merits of the Blu-ray are actually strong enough to improve the film somewhat (or, at least, the viewing experience), and it's just another way that Blu-ray is changing the way we watch movies.
The New Daughter comes with a feature-length audio track from director Luis Berdejo. It's mostly technical in nature and a slight language barrier can make it somewhat tough to get through, but patient viewers may find some good information. Also included is a standard making-of featurette, nearly a half hour of (correctly) deleted scenes and the film's original trailer.
I'm not really an advocate of suggesting that a movie is worth only a rental -- something's either worth seeing or it isn't -- but that's precisely the position I find myself in when talking about The New Daughter. It's a movie that's worth checking out on a Saturday night when the video store is out of everything you showed up to rent, but probably not much else. It deserves a look for the things it does right, but is equally frustrating in its unrealized potential. It's a decent movie that could have been much better.
Flawed, but not a waste of time.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes