It fills my little heart with high joy to see modern filmmakers embracing the always potent, sometimes cruelly dismissed killer kid subgenre. With some serious Spanish pedigree behind The New Daughter, the siren song of Netflix Instant called my name.
Quick Plot: Meet the James, a uniquely unhappy family who move into a far too splendid country home in South Carolina after Mrs. James up and left town with her lover. Dad John is a distracted novelist with no real clue how to connect to his moody tweenage daughter Louisa (Pan’s Labyrinth’s Ivana Banquero), better luck with 7-year-old Sam, and poor skills keeping the indoor cat from sneaking outside and being discovered in two bloody halves.
Maybe such carnage, coupled with Louisa’s increasingly strange behavior, has something to do with the giant Indian burial mounds (not grounds) hanging out in the backyard. By ‘maybe,’ I mean ‘yes, yes it does.’
Directed by REC and A Christmas Tale scribe Luiso Berdejo, The New Daughter is a solidly average modern genre film. While some touches are unique, virtually every beat feels culled from a catalog of movies that have already explored alternate possession. Big mysterious house (check).
Alienated teen (check).
Missing parental figure (check).
Ill-fated babysitter (check).
Pretty and perfect love interest for newly single parent (check).
Even a middle school bully with blonder than blonde hair shows up with two things to do: be mean and fall down the stairs. Because let’s face it: that’s what blonder than blonde tweenagers DO in these kinds of movies.
At the same time, The New Daughter fares far better than similarly direct-to-DVD-esque horror. Costner is a few spoons away from Robin Hood, but it’s pleasant enough to see him turn up here. Young Gattlin Griffith avoids being annoying as the token annoying younger brother, and while Louisa is a far less interesting role than Banqero’s past work, the young actress continues to prove herself as she grows up. So that’s good.
And hey, Berdejo isn’t incompetent when it comes to creating scares. Early hints regarding what’s in these southern woods are dropped in creative and eerie ways, while the first major bout of violence is cleverly staged behind a pounding front door. Even the design of the film’s ultimate baddies has something going for it.
But…but…I don’t know. There’s also a pounding sense of triteness about The New Daughter that built some kind of wall between itself and me as an actively engaged viewer. I was curious more than involved.
An early sneak appearance of a crafty wood creature is executed with great jumpiness
Thou shalt not waste the talents of the supremely talented and far underrated Noah Taylor. It’s in the/my bible and everything
In going through my notes, I’m realizing that The New Daughter left me feeling more manic than any film since Shattered Lives. There were plenty of moments where I started off thinking I’d seen what Berdejo was trying to do before, only to then conclude that it worked. Likewise, there were plenty of OTHER moments where the flip happened: a creepy spider inside a straw doll scene, for example, where logic plus an overpowering soundtrack tells you the payoff before it comes. It seems like the ideas and talent WERE there, but The New Daughter was ultimately a tad too timid to really step outside convention to deliver anything overly new
Girls don’t like jerky...for dinner
Seven years old is apparently not old enough to know the meaning of the word ‘sucks’
One way to tune that piano: remove the loaded shotgun hiding inside
If you’ve ever longed to see Kevin Costner free associate through Google terms like “raising teenage daughters,” “odd behavior, daughter,” “daughter, changes,” and “crappy dad,” this is clearly the movie for you
Meh. The New Daughter is a decent thrill of a horror film, but it never quite breaks into true scary territory. This would be tolerable if it knew well enough to have fun with itself, but like many overly ambitious, mediocre-ly executed films, it takes itself far too seriously. It’s a more than passable instant watch when you want something new and not terrible, but I’d advise against a blind buy. Berdejo proves himself capable as a filmmaker, but let’s hope he gets a little braver by taking more chances in his next work.