Now here's a strange case: a sedate and mellow horror thriller from Warner Bros. called The New Daughter that used to be a New Line title but got lost in the shuffle and then dumped into a 30-city release right before Christmas -- despite the fact that it's a vehicle for a rather big movie star named Kevin Costner. When confronted by a "mini-release dump" title like this one or Carriers (which I really dug) or Blood Creek (haven't seen it yet) or Midnight Meat Train (woohoo!) I often go on the defensive. I actually root for the movie to be good, so I can then point to the boneheaded studio folks and claim that they sunk a quality flick by tossing it into obscure theaters only because of contractual obligations.
In the case of The New Daughter, however, I can not only see why it got a quick and hidden theatrical release; I also wonder who the movie was made for in the first place. And here's the weirdest part: The flick's actually not bad! A bit slow and slightly familiar, but certainly not rotten or inept or worthless. (I simply fail to see who the "intended demographic" might be.)
We open with a doting dad and two sensitive kids, all of whom have been devastated by maternal abandonment. In other words, Mom skipped town with a new guy, which leaves John (Costner), pre-teen Louisa (Ivana Baquero), and little Sam (Gattlin Griffith) to pick up the pieces ... in a creepy old farmhouse they just purchased in a small town filled with weirdos. Yeah, not a great idea.
Turns out there's not only some ancient mysteries afoot in this neck of the South Carolina landscape, but also a few disconcerting locals (Samantha Mathis, Erik Palladino), and, well, some type of humanoid creature that likes to climb on roofs and make spooky noises. And that's all before young Louisa starts exhibiting some decidedly ... adult behavior. Let's just say The New Daughter doesn't exactly deliver a bunch of surprises, but it does a workmanlike job with a handful of familiar-yet-colorful components. It also helps that the movie lets us get used to the characters before getting down to the weirder stuff.
Unfortunately the effectively deliberate pacing of Act I bleeds into the second section, and at times the flick seems poised to slow down to a dead crawl. Costner offers a low-key but likable presence throughout the entire movie, which also helps to keep things afloat during the drier and / or sillier spots. And while it's worth noting that The New Daughter does stumble over some speed bumps in its middle section, things do pick up quite a bit towards the big finale.
The U.S. directorial debut of Luis Berdejo (one of the writers of the excellent [REC], The New Daughter feels a bit like a made-for-cable thriller that borrows liberally from similar flicks, but is still perfectly watchable on a dull Wednesday night. If anything elevates the experience, it's the quietly cool Costner and the excellent Ivana Baquero. She's grown up a little since Pan's Labyrinth and she's clearly a fantastic young actress.