New Daughter, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe tries to embrace the mediocre chills of this Kevin Costner film...
Recently and suddenly divorced, novelist John Jones (Kevin Costner) moves to a creepy country house with teenage daughter Louisa (Ivana Baquero), and young son Sam (Gattlin Griffith), who he, surprise, surprise, total custody of. Louisa immediately upset with the situation, as most teenage girls would, but after finding a mysterious mound of dirt in their back yard her behavior takes a turn for the weird. John starts noticing other strange occurrences around the house, and when Louisa’s behavior turns violent he begins to research the history of the house he’s moved his family in to.
Oh Kevin Costner, you poor, poor man. I’ve never been a very big fan, but it’s always hard to watch the mighty fall. The New Daughter is a perfectly capable, though somewhat interchangeable thriller, equal in quality to the director’s more recent theatrical output, but the film was mostly dumped straight to video, with very little fanfare or even advertising, which has got to sting for the aging, former megastar. I should also probably note that Costner is pretty good in the film, which just makes it that much sadder.
Director Luis Berdejo earns The New Daughter the benefit of the doubt, having co-written two of the best Spanish horror films of the last decade – Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s REC (the basis for Quarantine), and Plaza’s 6 Films to Keep You Awake segment, Christmas Tale. And Spain’s been on a roll with horror films for a while now, so this is saying a lot. Curiously, Berdejo gets no credit for the film’s script, even though screenwriting was his specialty to this point. It’s too bad because the screenplay is the film’s biggest flaw, and the film isn’t really a logical extension of Berdejo’s better work. The New Daughter feels more like an attempt at aping Alejandro Amenábar or M. Night Shyamalan, than the directorial debut of a one of Spanish cinema’s most promising creative minds. There are interesting elements found within the plot, especially the basis of the supernatural elements (which would probably work better with a hard-R rating), but the fun and energy of REC and Christmas Tale are practically non-existent, and the melodrama starts to burn after a while. It’s not that the film is entirely bereft of a sense of humour, but fun is definitely not paramount in the filmmakers’ minds.
The Native American folklore influences are a solid foundation for a short story, and a refreshing break from the Anglo-Saxon influences that define most supernatural thrillers, but the story surrounding them is weak overall, without ever outwardly failing. The family interactions are predictable, and don’t give any of the actors a lot to work with, but there’s a somewhat genuine nature to these scenes. This is evident in an early scene where Sam, the small son, finds a shotgun in a piano, and John coaxes it out of his hands. Even though the characters are still pretty flat at this point, hackles are appropriately raised at the concept of an accidental shooting. However, it’s pretty clear that writers learned most of their ‘facts’ concerning teenage girls from watching other movies. Louisa interacts with her estranged father pretty accurately (if not a little too obnoxiously), but the second the movie steps into a school setting the characterization turn arch, and pretty stupid. This is too bad, since female adolescence plays the most important roll in the story, and the production certainly got their hands on a solid young actress in Ivana Baquero (who most viewer will remember from Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth).
In the end this is a horror film, and arch characterizations and familiar narrative elements aren’t the largest critical concern. Berdejo has a good eye for the eerie, and a good sense of suspense, but the most aggressively horror-infused scenes come across a little goofy. Had a little more traditional horror been mixed into the melodramatic sections of the film the sudden influx of monsters might’ve seemed a little less silly and out of place. The creature designs are reminiscent of other recent humanoid monsters, but do feature an interesting mouth design. Berdejo shoots the monsters mostly in shadows, but not quite enough to disguise their form. The general lack of gore also disappoints, though I suppose not for the best reasons, I just kind of like gore.
The New Daughter comes to Blu-ray in the form of a good looking 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. This release follows the lead set by most of Anchor Bay’s recent Blu-ray releases – it’s colourful and clean, but it’s not the sharpest disc in terms of fine detail. The overall noise and grain levels are pretty even throughout the entire film, though the frequency and size of these elements appear to be the result of compression, rather than elements inherent in the source material. Details are a little inconsistent, as the darkest and brightest scenes both look generally better than the more evenly lit majority. The daylight sequences are purposefully a bit blown out, which plays a little havoc with the edges of darker details. Colours are quite vibrant throughout, and the pallet choices remind me quite a bit of the recent release of Peter Jackson’s Lovely Bones. The dark and spooky scenes are about the light play and contrasts, but the well lit scenes are very warm, golden, and slightly laced with greenish key lights. The subtle greens also play a role in the outdoor night sequences. These elements look nice against the harsher shadows, though the darkened areas are sometimes a little dull in terms of black clarity when black isn’t the composition’s major element.
Anchor Bay is one of the only studios still releasing PCM 5.1 tracks over DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD, and once again I didn’t notice I didn’t have the track activated until I was well into the movie. Once one is smart enough to change over from the compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 track, New Daughter features some pleasant audio surprises, though both tracks have their share of problems as well. The overall film is pretty docile in terms of audio design, but there are some impressive surround elements in the mix. The surround is mostly reserved for creepy creature noises, and the creaks and moans of the old house. The LFE is pressed a little too hard pressed on the track, and these subtle elements are made a bit less subtle through a needlessly aggressive throbbing. Otherwise the directional placement works well, and the increase in bass supports the eerie musical score very effectively. The surround representation of the score also represents a slightly overzealous design, as it draws a little too much attention to itself in the back channels. A middle-film thunderstorm scene offer a natural, immersive experience, and the first real creature attack features a genuinely bone-shaking monster scream that will flatten you to your couch (here the big LFE really punches correctly).
Special features begin with a commentary track from director Luis Berdejo, which must be accessed through the ‘set up’ menu (I almost missed it altogether because it’s not included in the ‘special features’ menu section). Berdejo has a pretty thick accent, but his English is plenty understandable. The problem with the track is the content, which is pretty dour in tone, and a bit repetitive. The focus is placed mostly on the film’s visuals, though fortunately Berdejo doesn’t come at things from an excessively technical point of view. The space is not filled particularly well, but I didn’t notice any blank spots longer than a few minutes. Not a terrible track, but not a particularly engaging one either. ‘ The New Daughter: Behind the Scenes’ (10:50, SD), which features interviews with the cast and crew, along with the author of the original short story. This is a sales pitch, but covers more thematic issues than the usual EPK featurette. The creature designing section is a little sad considering how little the creatures are featured in the final film. The disc also features a sizable collection of deleted/extended/alternate scenes, 20 in total (22:30, SD). These are mostly just minor trims that would’ve perhaps produced a little more atmosphere, but nothing particularly substantial, save the extended date, which fills in some back story, and a scene featuring John and his ex. Extras conclude with the original trailer, and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases, all in HD.
The New Daughter isn’t the STV mess the box art appears to promise, but isn’t much more than mediocre, save some nice imagery, and a reasonably cool concept. I was hoping to expect more from REC and Christmas Tale co-writer Luis Berdejo, but apparently the guy doesn’t work as well from other people’s material. The curious should get something out of a rental, but I cannot recommend a blind purchase. This disc looks very good, and sounds just fine, despite a generally lack of aural aggression, and the extras are informative enough.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 18th May 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Trailer, The New Daughter: Behind the Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Luis Berdejo
Cast: Kevin Costner, Ivana Baquero, Gattlin Griffith
Genre: Drama, Horror and Thriller
Length: 109 minutes
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