Amityville review - the people approve…
Film Review by Ashley Turner
Recently I was given the privilege of screening the upcoming extended short film proof-of-concept Amityville: The People of New York vs Ronald DeFeo Jr., written and directed by Rob Levinson. What made this exclusive experience even more unique, was having the opportunity to screen it alongside Rob himself.
Synopsis: “Maneuvering his way into being assigned the most infamous murder trial in Long Island's history, Assistant District Attorney Gerard Sullivan could not prepare himself for what was around the corner. In 1975, Ronald J DeFeo Jr. would stand trial for the murders of six of his family members in Amityville, New York. Sullivan, along with a host of Suffolk County's finest, painstakingly piece together this complicated case that captivated this sleepy hollow community.”
The beginning of the film opens on credits while listening to a 9-1-1 call placed reporting the DeFeo family murders in 1974. The audience is immediately invested, as we listen to the frustrating experience the neighbor experiences trying to report the grim circumstances. We are quickly introduced to the investigators of the case and the casting choices were absolutely spot on. With the charismatic (and dare-I-say strong resemblance to Sam Rockwell) delivery of Donnie Francis as Detective Napolitano, along with his endearing rapport with Detectives Gozaloff and Randazzo, one can’t help but smile even amidst such brutal circumstances.
The overall casting choices are strong in every character presented, each person bringing their own style and energy to their roles. Not one character feels forced or one-note. In fact, the casting of Ethan Rodgers as Ronald DeFeo Jr. is spot on. Ethan’s almost-exact likeness to DeFeo is a bit unnerving…and I like it. There is an immediate and strong dynamic between Gerard Sullivan (Eddie Nason) and Betty Jane Sullivan (Amy Thomason) and I immediately feel a sense of foreboding and dread the impact the case is going to have on their connection. Interestingly enough, Amy Thomason visually reminded me of Margot Kidder from the original Amityville (1979). Perhaps incidental, but felt like a fun little nod in my horror-fan head nonetheless.
I love that the filmmakers chose to take the perspective of the prosecutor versus DeFeo’s perspective. Anyone that has researched the events knows that DeFeo was a highly unreliable and untrustworthy individual whose story was constantly changing. His lack of credibility and outrageous explanations constantly shifting between interviews would make any attempt at making sense of his position a maddening attempt. We often-times forget in such chaotic circumstances that the damage-zone created by such vicious individuals is much larger than we can ever know. Choosing to provide the trial through the lens of the lead prosecutor and the impact it had on his relationships, family, and career is a smart and creative move by Levinson. It is important to note this is a narrative and not a documentary; a tale inspired by horrifying true events.
What makes a proof-of-concept film different from short films, is that you are getting pieces of the overall concept for the larger production, whether it be a feature film or television series. A proof-of-concept has to be able to enthrall the audience so that they want to see the expanded and complete world that is being presented to them. This film does precisely that. From art direction, casting, editing, and scene selection choices; the audience is captivated and anticipating more.