US (dir. Luis Berdejo)
Cast: Kevin Costner, Ivana Baquero, Samantha Mathis, Erik Palladino, Gattlin Griffith, Noah Taylor, James Gammon, Margaret Anne Florence, Sandra Ellis Lafferty
Synopsis: Academy Award winner Kevin Costner stars as John, a newly divorced father who moves into a rural South Carolina home with his adolescent daughter Louisa and young son Sam. But when Louisa begins to behave in a bizarre and increasingly violent manner, John must uncover the truth behind her transformation. Is the former owner’s shocking secret to blame? And how far will a father go to protect his daughter from an ancient evil determined to take her over?
Review: Wow! Kevin Costner in a horror movie!? Believe it! Don’t let the boring movie poster fool you, this is a legitimately freaky horror movie which could best be described as the unexpected result of a mash between “The Descent” and, sigh, M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs”.
My first impression of the film was that it would be one of those domestic thrillers that someone decided was violent or gory enough to file in the horror genre. This impression resulted from: 1) The fact that Kevin Costner was in the movie and 2) That the movie poster was terribly vague and uninspired, and fuck… had KEVIN COSTNER spelled out above the title, not exactly a huge draw for someone like me. To be honest, I would never have watched this without some instigation because the movie wasn’t really selling itself to me (no promotion, no word of mouth, terrible poster etc.). It wasn’t until I started reading all these rave reviews of the movie that I figured it would be worth checking out. And it was worth it! (Sorta). So, for the record, I can’t really take credit for discovering this on my own, and I guess the lesson of the day is to never judge a book by its cover.
“The New Daughter” is one of those movies with the whole “divorced/widowed parent takes the kids to a new home only to discover that _____ is causing problems” set-up. Not the most original setup. When the titular daughter of the film (Costner’s daughter) discovers a mound in the backyard of the new house her family (minus mom) has moved into, she starts acting all freaky… and stuff. And yes, you read that correctly, she discovers a mound. When Dad (Costner) starts to wonder why his tween daughter would want to spend so much time at a freaky mound, he bans her from going there. Of course, she disobeys him, and visits the mound as often as she can, whilst getting progressively freaky as the movie progresses.
Had this movie been as shitty as the poster implies it to be, you’d expect the daughter to be just getting her period or something or just acting out because, well, that’s what teenagers do. Happily, I can report that “The New Daughter” doesn’t deal with any of that domestic suburban bullshit or made-for-TV movie nonsense where a father learns to communicate with his daughter. It turns out there are some actual monsters living in the mound who exhibit some sort of ant-like mentality in that they only have one queen to procreate with so they protect her at all costs. I’ll leave you to guess who they’ve elected as their new queen (hint: it’s not Kevin Costner).
Ivana Baquero (of “Pan’s Labyrinth”) portrays the titular new daughter. I was confused as to why she didn’t get her name on the movie poster alongside Costner’s as she would be more recognizable in the horror movie community than Costner whose last horror movie effort was “Dragonfly” (yuck). I guess they were betting on Costner being the big draw here (?). Baquero is really a wonderful young actress, all she has to do is sneer and you know she’s already fucking evil. Her younger brother in the movie mentions this whole thing about ant colonies and that becomes a sort of running idea throughout the film, but I really didn’t think they’d actually do the whole “the mound is actually a giant ant hill filled with mutated ants” angle… and they don’t, but there’s still the implication that Banquero’s character is ultimately destined to be a queen mother for the mound’s creatures.
The movie spends an adequate amount of time developing mood and atmosphere before delving into the creature feature genre. There’s also sufficient character development on Banquero and Costner’s part, although one scene with Costner using a search engine called Root Around (with a squirrel logo on his fake MacBook (seriously, they couldn’t have used a real MacBook or fixed the upside down Apple logo?) to determine how he can be a better father and why there’s a freaky mound in his backyard, is pretty lame, but I loved the fact that they at least showed his frustration.
Despite a mild segway into domestic dramaland, the film wraps up nicely with a fairly downer ending. I can’t even remember when a film like this ended on such a low note, but hey, more power to it! I suppose the downer ending combined with the fact that there wasn’t really much of a market for horror movies with Kevin Costner (sorry, but it’s true!) contributed to the general ignorance of this film. However, the lesson here is to really not judge something before you see it for yourself, and I think you’ll find “The New Daughter” to be a surprisingly dark little film.