MOVIE REVIEW: "The New Daughter"

Sam White
Sam White's picture

At the end of the movie “Hell is for Heroes”, Steve McQueen bravely charges a German gun emplacement and tosses in a grenade. It looks like he’s so close, the blast will probably kill him as well as the Germans. In so doing, he is saving his platoon and being a hero at the cost of his own life.

Ever since the movie abruptly ended, film fans have argued about that ending (and whose idea it was to cast Bob Newhart—in his first big screen roll—in a serious war picture). Did McQueen die? Did he live? What sort of statement were the directors and producers trying to make? It’s kind of a throw-away movie, but that ending and the casting (let’s not forget Fess Parker!) have made it a topic of discussion over the years.

One wonders if the same will happen for “The New Daughter,” the 2009 movie starring Kevin Costner that you probably never heard of before seeing it on the DVD shelf at your local retailer. You probably never heard of it because it appeared briefly on about eight screens nationwide, before appearing the very next Tuesday on DVD. If it’s remembered, it will be for the casting of Ivana Baquero, an attractive teen girl and decent actress who reminded my wife of Anne Hathaway and me of Wynona Ryder (especially when you think “Beetlejuice”).

It will also be remembered for it’s [spoiler alert] ending. I’ll tell you why in a little bit.

Kevin Costner plays John, a recently-divorced writer who moves himself and his two children to a beautiful old house in South Carolina. His son, Sam, is quiet but seems to get along with everybody. His daughter Louisa, though, really resents the divorce and the move and all. And then she discovers an old Indian burial mound that may actually be the burial mound of a race of all-male beings who lived in South Carolina years ago (they wouldn’t have liked Mark Sanford because they all only had one woman between them) and who have been waiting for millennia for the right teenage girl to come along and be their queen. If you guessed that they have chosen Sam, you’re not paying attention, because he’s a boy.

If you guessed Louisa, then you’re a much more perceptive person than John. He suspects something is up almost from the beginning, but decides to ride it all out, for some reason. OK, I can sort of get that when the family cat is disemboweled he’s shaken but resolved to stay (hey, it could be coyotes or something), but when his daughter pukes up what looks like chunky yellow banana pudding and then is revealed to have acne all over her back that looks like infected spider bites, rather than take her to a doctor or the hospital he just asks Sam’s first grade teacher to “keep an eye on her” (she’s not in first grade). When the baby sitter is dismembered and buried in the mound, he tells the kids to stay in the house.

Still, as dumb as John comes across, the movie is nicely shot and the actors are all engaging. What kills this movie [here’s that spoiler again, though with more detail this time] is the ending. There isn’t one.

John blows up the mound, possibly taking himself and his daughter up in the explosion, while Sam is left to watch from the distance. The last thing we see is Sam standing there, holding a picture frame, in which we can see someone walking towards him. And then we see one of the creatures (who resemble nothing so much as a Sleestak from the old “Land of the Lost” TV show) sneaking up behind Sam and … credits roll. That’s it. No scene at the end to explain what happened.

I checked some on-line discussions of the movie and the general consensus is that the thing we see walking towards Sam in the reflection is one of the Sleestaks. It looked to me like it was walking upright, though, which the Sleestaks didn’t. So maybe it was his dad. That would be a nice, heart-warming ending, with more than a bit of melancholy because he didn’t seem to be carrying anything (i.e. Louisa).

I don’t have a problem with a sad ending, or even an angry ending. But this felt like nothing but a “no ending” ending. It left such a bad taste in my mouth that it’s hard to say complimentary things about the rest of the movie—and, honestly, I was enjoying it up until then. Even though, as Eddie Murphy pointed out years ago, white people in horror movies are stupid. These white folks live up to that generalization in spades, but it was fun up until then.

The truth about “Hell is for Heroes” is that the studio decided the director had gone too far over budget and pulled the plug. After some begging, they let him cobble together enough footage to release the movie. He had never gotten around to filming what was supposed to happen to McQueen, so he just chopped it off right there and claimed—at the time—that the abrupt ending was on purpose.

I wonder who pulled the funding on “The New Daughter”?