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Disc Covering: “The New Daughter,” in which Kevin Costner battles a dirt monster.

Disc Covering: “The New Daughter,” in which Kevin Costner battles a dirt monster. (photo)

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Technically speaking, this week’s straight-to-DVD film didn’t go straight to DVD. “The New Daughter,” starring Kevin Costner, did receive a very small release last December. How small? So small that people who cover movies for a living had no idea the film was coming out until the day before it opened (this, by the way, is BAD SIGN YOUR MOVIE IS GOING STRAIGHT TO DVD #3 [even if not technically]).

Web sites like Shock Till You Drop put up incredulous articles the day before “The New Daughter”‘s December release date (chosen, no doubt, to ensure Oscar eligibility) noting the highly unusual circumstance of a film featuring a relatively major star getting dumped into theaters with absolutely no marketing or promotion.

Given that fact, I’m willing to grandfather “The New Daughter” into this column, considering the only way 99% of people would have the chance to see it was when it showed up last month in video stores. It’s sort of like that old adage about a tree falling in the woods. If a movie opens in theaters, and no one realizes it’s playing, did it ever get released?

06152010_NewDaughter5.jpg“The New Daughter” (2009)
Directed by Luis Berdejo

Tagline: How far with a father go to protect the ones he loves?

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: Newly single father of two moves to old country house with incredible views of the mouth of hell. His daughter gets replaced by dirt devil.

Salable Elements: A rare starring role in a horror film for Costner and direction from Luis Berdejo, the Spanish horror specialist best known as one of the writers of the cult film “[Rec].”

Biggest Success: One of Costner’s character John’s two children is Louisa, a young teenager; she’s played by “Pan’s Labyrinth”‘s Ivana Baquero. Disappointed with her missing mother, unhappy with her ill-equipped father, Louisa becomes particularly fascinated by a large dirt mound on the property surrounding the family’s new house. Before you can say “Is this movie really trying to scare me with a big pile of dirt?” Louisa has fallen under its supernatural spell.

The screenplay by John Travis, based on a short story by John Connolly, does a nice job of using her mound-spurred emotional transformation as a metaphor for puberty. Like a lot of fathers of teenagers, John suddenly feels like he doesn’t recognize his own child, like she’s been replaced with someone totally different (and, in this case, she kinda has been).

06152010_newdaughter7.jpgBiggest Failure: I’d call the fact that this “horror” film is not particularly scary a pretty big failure. Berdejo seems to be going for a “Jaws” approach to the scares; we quickly realize something is going on in this house but all we’re shown are fleeting glimpses of weird things crawling in the dark or running just beyond the edges of the frame. That approach worked in “Jaws” because the film was told from the perspective of three men on a boat who couldn’t see their prey. It’s one thing not to show a monster who’s lurking out of view. It’s another entirely to bend over backwards to keep the audience in the dark even as the protagonists see everything.

In one particularly bad scene, John is riding shotgun in a police car with the local sheriff, driving through the woods looking for mound monsters. When a horror movie cliché knocks out their headlight, the cop sticks his head out the window and is promptly attacked and pulled out of the car. Though Costner watches the guy get slaughtered from about the distance of your face from your computer screen, we don’t get a single clear shot of what’s happening, just flashes of arms and legs and Costner giving his best Eric Roberts Surprise Face. Imagine how pissed off you be if you never saw the shark eat Quint and you start to get the idea.

06152010_daughter4.jpgBest Moment: When John can’t figure out why his daughter is acting so strangely, he does what any lazy person does when he has a problem he can’t solve: he looks it up on the internet. For one hilarious montage, Kevin Costner Googles (or the closest fake movie website equivalent) all of his issues.

He starts with “odd behavior, daughter” and when that doesn’t yield “It’s not hormones: IT’S LANDSCAPING!” he enters “lame father” and “Crappy dad.” Since his picture doesn’t come up, he searches “Mound, strange” and then “mound, scientist, South Carolina” which brings him to Noah Taylor’s character, who’ll appear in an all-too-brief role later in the movie. What he should have done instead is Googled “The Amityville Horror” so he’d know how his movie was going to end.

Special Features: “The New Daughter” disc includes a ten-minute behind-the-scenes featurette about the production, which includes interviews with most of the cast and crew. Travis, the screenwriter, talks about the scene that was the hardest to write in the film, picking the one “in the living room where John is holding a shotgun and he’s aiming it at Louisa, knowing that if he doesn’t pull the trigger, him and Sam are going to be eaten alive.” Maybe “the hardest scene to write” is screenwriter code for “the worst scene I wrote,” because it doesn’t appear in the final cut.

06152010_daughter2.jpgWorthy of a Theatrical Release: No, this movie isn’t even worthy of the tiny release it did get. I liked Costner a lot in his late ’80s and early ’90s heyday, but I think there’s a reason that he made so few horror films over his long career: he’s not comfortable in them. His entire persona is based on laid-back charm and tough determination. He just doesn’t play scared all that convincingly; he mostly just rubs his eyes and sighs. Admittedly, the fault there could lie as much with the screenplay as his performance, since it asks so little of the character’s intelligence and so much of the audience’s patience.

I mean, if your family was imperiled, if you were fairly convinced there was something in the woods around your house eating your pets and your babysitters, wouldn’t you’d be at the nearest Residence Inn inside of an hour? You certainly wouldn’t leave your kids at the house on Bloodletting Lane with a decrepit old woman while you go investigate another murder alone. And why doesn’t anyone in this movie have a cell phone? The only people who would find this movie scary are rupophobics, a group that’s probably an even smaller percentage of the American population than the folks who saw this film in theaters.

For Further Viewing: Here’s something that’s truly terrifying: Kevin Costner is the man BP has turned to for help with cleaning up the oil spill.

[Photos: “The New Daughter,” Anchor Bay Films, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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