As one gets older, you have the chance to watch great actors suddenly fall from grace. Some do so simply by getting older. Others do so by being put into movies that offer them up as the best part of the film. Such is the case with the release this week of THE NEW DAUGHTER starring Kevin Costner.
Costner plays John James, a recent divorcee who has moved his children to a rural town called Mercy in South Carolina. Son Sam (Gattlin Griffin) has no problems with the move. But daughter Louisa (Ivanna Banquero) is the typical troublesome teen, taking her anger out on dad while honestly feeling as if her mother has abandoned the entire family.
The James family has moved into a fairly large house, the stately two story southern white house with a large front porch. Here, John hopes to get back on track writing once more. The kids find the place incredibly boring and go exploring the grounds. Its there that they come across something odd, a mound in the woods nearby that seems to hold a mysterious fascination for Louisa. Gee, what are the odds that something mysterious will involve the mound?
As the kids begin to adapt to their new locale and new school, Louisa finds herself picked on by one of the girls in her class. Not one to start anything, the incident goes unreported. But anyone who's seen a film of this sort knows that the girl will eventually get what's coming to her.
As the film progresses, Louisa begins to act stranger with each passing day. Sleepwalking that leaves tracks of dirt and mud through that house as she wanders to the mound, covered in dirt when she comes home and more lead John to suspect something just isn't right. But he's not quite sure if it's something with the new locale, the divorce, a friendship with his son's teacher (played by Samantha Mathis) or just a guilt trip where he fells he's a bad parent.
Blatant metaphor time! Throughout the film we see young Sam having to deal with a science project from school. It's an ant farm and he watches with a keen interest as the ants slowly begin to seem to die, only to reveal later that they were in fact just waiting for the new queen to emerge. For those not in the know, this is a blatant smack in the face hint at what's to come.
As John begins to look deeper into things, he learns that the house has a history. The last owners fled the house and took up elsewhere. And in their new location, the young daughter of the previous owner was killed in a fire in their new house. When John goes there to investigate, the grandfather is still living in the charred remains of the house and talks to John about doing what needs to be done, describing how he burned the house and his granddaughter in it. Repulsed by his admission, John leaves and heads home.
I could ruin the film and fill in the details of the last portion of the film but a few of you might actually enjoy the film. And in truth, while it is rather obvious in the things that happen, it still offers a mild piece of entertainment. It's not the worst movie I've ever seen and it's very well made. It just all feels so obvious.
Costner deserves better than this. He's had his share of megaflops (that I've actually enjoyed including WATERWORLD and THE POSTMAN) but we also need to remember this is the star of FIELD OF DREAMS and DANCES WITH WOLVES. Costner has always reminded me of Gary Cooper in his aw shucks way and obvious ability to bring forth a good character. Let's just hope that Costner can finally get back on track with something that uses his talents better than this.
I was hard pressed to decide if this film deserved 3 or 4 stars. On the whole, it was rather simple, plenty obvious in where it was going for a horror fan and offered little suspense. But there was a part of me that enjoyed it anyway, knowing that yes there might come a day when I'll pull this one out to watch again. To me, that's the kicker. If I'll watch it again, it gets bumped up a notch. And this one is enjoyable for Costner's performance if nothing else.