The New Daughter (2009) – DVD Review

The New Daughter
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Beautifully shot and well acted, this horror-thriller leaves too many unaswered questions.

As a movie lover living in New York City, I’ve become a bit jaded in terms of film-watching. New York is one of those places they refer to when using the phrase, “Opens in Select Cities” during movie trailers, and aside from getting to see most independent films a good 3-4 months before the rest of the country, there are also opportunities to see screenings of many major releases early as well. Film buffs take note: New York City is the celluloid “High Life”. Which is why it is always a bit unsettling to find a recent DVD release that completely slipped under my radar. Case in point: THE NEW DAUGHTER, which snuck in and out of theatres last December.
THE NEW DAUGHTER is a horror-thriller directed by Luis Berdejo ( the writer of [REC]) about a recently divorced father named John (Kevin Costner) who moves to rural South Carolina with his two children, Louisa (Ivana Baquero of PAN’S LABYRINTH fame) and Sam (Gattlin Griffith from CHANGELING). Exploring their new property, the kids stumble upon a mysterious mound at the edge of the woods. While Sam and John both feel ill at ease around it, Louisa seems inexplicably drawn to it. Shortly thereafter, Louisa’s behavior begins to change as she becomes more withdrawn and aggressive, all while spending more and more time out at the mound. Hoping to understand what is happening to his daughter, John researches the property and finds that an ancient evil may lurk underneath the mound. With no options left, he takes it upon himself to save Louisa and end the horror once and for all.
Lets get the pros out of the way: This movie is beautifully shot by D.P Checco Varese, who finds the perfect mood lighting for each scene and also resists the recent trend in movies to overuse the Steady Cam/ Handheld camera approach, opting instead for a traditional smooth and steady shot to get the point across. And despite whatever your feelings for Kevin Costner may be, the acting in THE NEW DAUGHTER is not bad. Costner is definitely in his element here: small, intimate scenes placed in the South (so right there, no pesky accents to master). He is believable as a father having a hard time with the change in his life but doing his best for the kids.
Unfortunately, that’s where the pros stop and the cons begin. The editing definitely leaves something to be desired – there are so many blackouts, you might think someone spiked your soda. While it may make for gripping suspense the first two times, after awhile you start to expect commercials to pop up. But this leads us to the main problem with THE NEW DAUGHTER: the script. While I can’t speak to the source material (the film is based off the short story by John Connolly), the screenplay is all over the place. It wants to pack as much tension and suspense into a scene as possible but often gives no context for said tension and suspense. The script attempts to include the back-story in a subtle manner that doesn’t overshadow the rest of the plot.; unfortunately, it is so subtle that it requires a scene in which a scientist comes in and says a few words, then disappears. Rather than a gradual 5-course meal of information, it starves viewers and then suddenly hits them in the face with a cream pie of plotline. By the time the ending rolls around, the audience has no clear understanding of the plot and, therefore, no stake in the fate of the characters.
Overall, THE NEW DAUGHTER is a noble attempt that trips and falls on its clunky screenplay. The ideas are interesting and the film provides us with a glimpse of possible future movie stars (Ivana Baquero is definitely one to watch), but in the end there are so many unanswered questions that even a second viewing won’t come close to answering them all.

The DVD (Standard Def. Version reviewed)

While certainly not extensive, the DVD does have your standard package of extras:

  • Deleted Scenes – The best that can be said for these is that they definitely are scenes and yes, they were deleted. Most of the offerings here are simply transitional bits that provides no insight into the film itself: i.e. ambulances pulling up to a house.
  • Audio Commentary – The sole commentary comes from director Luis Berdejo, who spends most of the time discussing what they were attempting to do.
  • Behind The Scenes – The most insightful extra on the DVD, includes interviews from the cast & crew. John Connolly, writer of the short story on which the film is based, discusses his inspiration, and he seems like the kind of guy you want to go get a beer with.

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