Review: The New Daughter (15) / Directed by: Luiso Berdejo / Written by: John Travis, John Connolly / Starring: Kevin Costner, Ivana Baquero, Samantha Mathis
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when Kevin Costner was a big deal. His films used to make millions at the box office, then Waterworld happened and then The Postman, these days his films rarely seem to get a cinema release. The man seems to have a knack for choosing poor projects that do nothing for his waning star status; the latest bad decision was dropping out of Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The New Daughter is his latest film to arrive straight to DVD and if you have seen the trailer you might expect it to be a certain kind of seen it all before film about a possessed girl. Except The New Daughter is actually quite surprising and far better than you would think based on Costner’s recent track record.
At the start we are in Stephen King territory, newly divorced writer John James (Costner) arrives in a small South Carolina town with his kids; daughter Louisa (Ivana Baquero from Pans Labyrinth) and son Sam (Gattlin Griffith). They move into a big house in the countryside surrounded by fields and woodland. Clearly the divorce has been rough on John and the kids miss their mother. Whilst out exploring the grounds the kids find a mysterious mound of earth. Louisa seems drawn to the mound and spends an increasing amount of time outside alone. Soon she starts acting strangely and weird marks appear on her neck. She sleepwalks and John finds her clutching a creepy straw doll in her bedroom. John grows more and more concerned as his daughter’s behaviour grows more and more erratic. He overhears whispers in town about the houses history and his estate agent is cagey about the details. Disturbed by horrifying sounds and after their cat is found brutally murdered, John seeks out the previous owner of the house. He finds that in a mirror of his own situation a rift grew between a mother and her daughter who she no longer believed was the same person, this situation ended in tragedy. John desperately seeks a solution to the problem and receives calls from a professor with an interest in ancient mounds and their relation to old world gods. Eventually John discovers that his daughter's problems may lie in an ancient force long thought dead that exists in the grounds around his new home.
At the start; The New Daughter feels very much like the typical horror film that sprang up en masse in the wake of the success of The Ring. Then you see something startling on a roof and all bets are off. The tension builds and builds with each new alarming piece of anti social behaviour that Louisa exhibits. You are drip fed more and more information about what could be lurking in the darkness and when it’s revealed you realise that what you thought you were watching was not at all what was advertised in the trailers. If you think along the lines of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Signs then you are on the right track.
The New Daughter is directed by the writer of the films Luiso Berdejo and is nothing like the kinetic horror presented in those films. Here Berdejo favours the slow build with identifiable situations. Most parents with teenagers can testify to the fact that with puberty comes many problems, especially for girls and Berdejo mines this basic truth for all the tension he can. You are never sure if what you are seeing is an actual transformation or just a rite of passage for a young girl and her relationship with her father. This theme is not blatantly knocking you over the head at every plot turn but it’s definitely in the subtext although sadly not developed satisfyingly enough. When Costner is pushed to the limits is when the film really kicks into high gear and takes a surprising and welcome turn into different territory. It’s been a while since there has been a creature feature with a man besieged in a farm house but once this film becomes that kind of tale, it becomes even more enjoyable. Costner is solid if a little too world weary in the central father figure role and seems to have what Bruce Willis has developed with a glazing over of the twinkle in the eye as he just thinks of the pay check. Ivana Baquero proves that Pan's Labyrinth was no fluke and acts her socks off as the daughter, it’s going to be fun to watch her grow into a promising young actress based on her short career so far.
Where this film scores big is with the sound design, if you have a good quality home cinema system then crank it up for a workout. Much like what M.Night Shyamalan did with Signs, Luis Berdejo uses sound to disarm the viewer with bangs and knocks around a big house and saves the creature reveal until the last possible moment when the tension is at breaking point. The design of the creatures is also very effective; you rarely get a full glimpse of one (probably to save on the budget) but the point is got across that they are utterly terrifying and ferocious. The claustrophobic John Carpenter-esque finale may not satisfy everyone but works in the context of the film.
The New Daughter isn’t an out an out classic and many viewers, on the IMDB anyway, seem to hate it. I had a great time watching this film, it was a surprise for certain and it’s not often I can say that about something that goes straight to DVD.
The New Daughter is available now on DVD/Blu-ray