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Robin Hood vs. the Mound Walkers (guess who wins?): “The New Daughter”

October 30, 2013

the-new-daughter-movie-poster

[NOTE: This is a repost. For a spirited defense of the film, please read the comments below my original post here.]

Well, I guess it’s that time again. The stars lined up, or the Druids did a ritual, or perhaps it was foretold in ancient texts. Whatever the case, Kevin Costner has returned to once again to remind us that he’s not dead. Of course, anyone who suffered through Mr. Brooks knows that it has been a long, self-inflicted fall from his glory days of The Untouchables and Bull Durham. Hell, by the time his latest crapfest, The New Daughter, ends in a blaze of shameless stealing from better movies, Costner was probably even longing for his more hubristic days of drinking his own pee in Waterworld.

In The New Daughter, Costner plays a novelist and single-dad named John James who has moved his family–he has a nine year-old son and a 15-ish year-old daughter–to a secluded South Carolina town in the wake of a nasty divorce. Now “John James” may make him sound like a Revolutionary War hero, but Costner is thoroughly emasculated in this movie, padding around in a V-neck sweater (the male equivalent of mom jeans) with a pair of reading glasses hanging around his neck. It’s never revealed what kind of novels John writes, but we can be pretty sure his main competitor isn’t James Ellroy. Probably closer to Nicholas Sparks.

The ouitfit says, "I'm okay with the fact my readership consists of menopausal housewives."

The ouitfit says, “I’m okay with the fact my readership consists of menopausal housewives.”

The kids have very different attitudes toward the move. His son Sam is okay with it, but his daughter Louisa (Ivana Baquero from Pan’s Labyrinth) hates it, hates the house, hates her life, hates him, and hates the beef jerky John gives them for dinner their first night in their new home. Actually that last one is kind of understandable. Anyway, they go for a walk in the woods and find a big-ass burial mound, which Louisa and John think is cool, but Sam stays away from. When the nine year-old kid is the voice of reason in your film, you know you’ve got a long slog ahead of you.

They go about settling into their new digs, and director Luis Berdejo makes good and certain that we know things aren’t copacetic. Eerie music plays. The camera stalks around the house like a jungle cat. At night Louisa is menaced by strange noises. Really, badly-done, cheap strange noises. They sound like something out of the .midi catalog from a Windows 95 upgrade. Kind of like “eee…ooo…growl-growl-growl” Okay, that didn’t work, but trust me: they’re crappy.

"Creepy woods. Eerie noises at night. Nothing can go wrong with this plan."

“Creepy woods. Eerie noises at night. Nothing can go wrong with this plan.”

Aside from that, Louisa begins spending more and more time outside and coming home covered in dirt and mud. She begins acting strangely, too. She’s bitter and sulky one minute, remote and detached the next. John tries to reach out to her, but no dice. The other adults he goes to for advice–including his son’s hawt teacher (Samantha Mathis)–basically tell him, “Eh, she’s a teenager. Also she’s starting to get her period, so, you know, there’s that.” Wow, thanks folks.

[And let me just pause here to say there is no way–none!–that Samantha Mathis can now be old enough to play Kevin Costner’s love-interest. Back in the ’90s, I and almost every other 20-something had a huge crush on her and wished she was the chick who lived in our dorm. She is not/not old enough to play Costner’s girlfriend! Liar! Liar!]

In our hearts you will remain...in 1996.

In our hearts you will remain…in 1996.

Okay, so where was I? Right, so some other crap happens along these lines–the cat gets eaten, Louisa maims a mean girl at school, and pretty soon it’s clear that something is not right with Louisa. John looks into the house’s history and discovers that it has a bit of a history. The previous woman who lives there with her daughter locked the daughter in her room and beat feet. John tracks down the girl’s grandfather who describes his granddaughter going through a transformation like Louisa’s before he finally set fire to his house with the girl in it. He’s awfully cavalier about confessing to arson/murder, but I guess you get more laid back about felonies when you get older Then he warns Costner, “You can’t save her! And you’ll do the same thing!” Or words to that effect.

Well, things go from bad to worse here, since while John was chatting with the family-annihilator, he left the kids with a baby-sitter.  You know, when you leave a psycho-offspring with a sitter who’s not a hot, nubile teenager, bad things are going to happen. And they do. Louisa locks the sitter outside and the bad-sound-effect creatures come for her. We don’t see them, but we hear the sitter scream a lot, so that obviously didn’t end well.

"The Postman was a great movie...people will appreciate it, eventually."

“The Postman was a great movie! People will appreciate it one day! You’ll see!”

John decides to destroy the mound, but a couple of mound experts from the nearby University show up and beg him to stop. It’s a great archeological find, they argue. Then they barf up some unnecessary exposition to pretty much explain the whole movie. Seems burial mounds were usually built not for humans, but for alien creatures they refer to as “moundwalkers” (really doc? Moundwalkers? Um, exactly where did you get your degree again?) Anyway, the moundwalkers came to the surface to mate with human women to repopulate their species, since they were all male and they needed a queen to, um, lay eggs (seriously doc, did you have to print out a .pdf copy of your diploma before you could hang it on your wall?) John tries to go ahead with destroying the mound, but gets stymied when they unearthed the remains of the babysitter. Isn’t that always the way? Try to do a little landscaping, make the yard look nice, and whamo! Babysitter corpse.

Rowr!

Rowr!

Well, this buys the moundwalkers enough time to stage a nighttime assault on the house, aided by a murderous Louisa. John fights them off with a double-barreled shotgun, and while it would seem that a two-shot weapon wouldn’t be the most effective thing to have in a siege situation, the moundwalkers are considerate enough to attack in ones and twos. Apparently they’re kin to the dumbass aliens from Signs who launch an invasion of Earth, but can’t figure out how to work a doorknob.

[An aside: how did the Signs invaders fare in urban centers? I bet they landed in New York and then got stopped in their tracks at the first subway station when they couldn’t figure out whether they wanted the Unlimited Ride Metrocard or the weekly pass.]

"Two shots? I'm fine. They probably won't be more monsters than that."

“Two shots? I’m fine. There probably won’t be more monsters than that.”

Anyway, John loads up and chases Louisa into the mound, which empties into a massive underground chamber. He fights off some moundwalkers and drags Louisa to the surface, only to confront a lone moundwalker which…doesn’t really do anything. Well, this is enough to best John and he lights off some AmFo, blowing up the mound in a massive conflagration. The movie ends with Sam looking at the burning mound for any sign of his father, while moundwalkers close in on him. Nice job, Superdad, got any other kids you wanna leave to a horrible death?

So that’s The New Daughter, a movie which can’t decide whether it wants to rip off Signs or The Descent. Costner does his best–he practically knocks himself out trying show he’s acting…real…hard! Yeah, it doesn’t work, and what does it say about his own assessment of his career that he tales a role in which he’s such an abject failure of a man that he can’t save his kids from some real lame-o monsters? Maybe he’s being realistic.

Of course if it had been my dad, none of this would have ever happened. You’d get one scene of the mound, some creepy music, then, “Goddamit, Gunmonkey, stop screwing around and help me clean the gutters!” And the credits would roll.

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