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The New Daughter

Reviewed by: Robert Sims
2 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

Kevin Costner as John James
Ivana Baquero as Louisa James
Gattlin Griffith as Sam James
Samantha Mathis as Cassandra
Noah Taylor as Prof. Evan White
Erik Palladino as Sheriff Ed Lowry
James Gammon as Roger Wayne

Directed by: Luis Berdejo


So much for Waterworld and The Postman representing career lows for Kevin Costner. Luckily for the Oscar-winning director and onetime box office sure thing, no one will mention this spineless PG-13 creature feature in the same breath as those sci-fi disasters. Anchor Bay's buried this Gold Circle production deeper than the double-barrel shotgun Costner's best-selling writer finds hidden in his new home and disposes of quicker than you can shout, "Stop, you'll need it later."

Costner hasn't had much luck with his excursions into horror. Dragonfly positioned itself as a supernatural chiller in the vein of The Sixth Sense, but it turned out to be a far-fetched exercise in New Age mumbo-jumbo spiritualism. Mr. Brooks was a promising start to a potential franchise that cast Costner as a serial killer, but precious few wanted to see him toy that drastically with his All-American image. Still, you can understand why Costner took on those misfires. You'll be hard-pressed to find a reason why Costner would say yes to The New Daughter - which marks the English-language directorial debut of [Rec] co-writer Luis Alejandro Bermejo - after sitting all the way through to its unsatisfying open-ended climax. Maybe Gold Circle executives convinced Costner that The New Daughter would be as big as their Michael Keaton hit, White Noise.

For all The New Daughter's faults, Costner can't be accused of phoning it as John James. While Costner dials down his easygoing charm, he does exude enough solemnity to suggest he doesn't think he's in a film that's beneath his talents. Which it is. Costner's role of an author suffering from writer's block would likely have gone to an aging TV star, such as Mark Harmon or William Petersen, had Gold Circle not lucked out.

Ready to prove he's not the worst father in the world, the newly divorced John moves his kids to a large South Carolina farm. You don't need to be Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer to realize something inhuman has taken an immediate interest to John's brooding teenage daughter, Louisa (Spanish actress Ivana Baquero of Pan's Labyrinth fame). You half-expect Louisa to be concerned about the footprints that lead up the staircase to her bedroom window. Or the scuttling noise emanating from the roof. Or the strange howling from the woods. Even John doesn't seem worried about an Indian burial mound that allows you to see directly into Louisa's bedroom. Heck, John only gets a little nervous when he learns that the house previously belonged to a woman who almost starved her teenage daughter to death.

Louisa then slowly starts to change. She spends her days on the mound, sleepwalks at night, and has short-term memory blackouts. Accidents happen at school that you know Louisa had something to do with - even if no one else does.

To reveal the cause behind Louisa's transformation would spoil the tough decision - one ripped off from a 1970s undisputed classic - that Costner must make when he finally confronts the monsters that threaten to tear apart his family. Unfortunately, we're supposed to notice a change in Louisa's attitude and demeanor - no doubt intended to be symbolic of an adolescence girl's sexual maturation. But Baquero struggles to convey anything other than sullenness and defiance from start to finish as Louisa that it's impossible to tell when the old daughter from the new daughter. Oh, that's right, the new daughter looks like she's borrowed makeup from The Cure's Robert Smith.

Eventually, with the aid of Noah Taylor's know-it-all Prof. Evan White, John realizes Louisa's under the influence of the remnants of an alien race of deities known as "mound walkers." Unfortunately, White goes back to whenever he came from before he can truly to of any help. That leaves John to confront the mound walkers by his lonesome.

We do get a brief glimpse of a mound walker a few minutes into The New Daughter - Berdejo shows one from afar crawling up the farmhouse roof. But it's not until John digs up the shotgun and starts blasting away that we get to see the mound walkers up close and personal. And what a disappointment that is. Imagine a mud-caked alien from Signs with razor-sharp teeth that allows it to eat his victims alive. Not too scary, really.

Not that Berdejo allows us to see the mound walkers at their bloody worst. All but one death scene is regrettably shown off-screen. It's hard to tell whether this is Berdejo's intention or the result of a misguided attempt to secure a PG-13 rating. The precious few moments of violence are shot in such a manner to suggest Berdejo wanted to keep the gore to a minimum. On the other hand, all signs point to the unseen fatal knifing of a major character being excised, so it wouldn't come as a surprise if this ended back in an unrated DVD version of the film. There's also a hint that there's more to John's friendship with his son Sam's teacher (Samantha Mathis), so you wonder whether they got it on in a previous incarnation of the film.

Given The New Daughter's refusal to satisfy our blood lust, Berdejo is faced with the task of trying to send shivers down our spine. But the film's languid pace and dense atmosphere prevents Berdejo from doing just that. So he resorts to the clich�d, employing rolling mist, loud shrieks, and passing shadows whenever possible. Needless to say, nothing works. And he isn't helped by John Travis' screenplay, which boasts the most obvious twists and turns. Surprisingly, Berdejo concocts a tension-filled climax that's heavily informed by The Descent and the aforementioned horror favorite. If only the rest of The New Daughter was this good.

"A father will do anything for his daughter," the grandfather of one of the mound walkers' early victims tells John. Unfortunately, other than Costner, no one involved in The New Daughter is up to the challenge of putting this parenting principle to the test.

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Posted by: Sean on December 22, 2009 at 10:08:39

This sounds very disappointing. I recently read the John Connelly short story this is based on and really enjoyed it. Shame they tweaked the idea into such a mess. The changeling/faerie mound idea in the original was quite well done. Nicely creepy, especially the descriptions of the creature ("mound walker"?!?-yeesh!)

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