Tag Archives: M. Night Shyamalan

Split (2017)

8 Feb

Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, M. Night Shyamalan was the go-to director for plot-heavy genre fare.  Well received by critics and audiences alike,  his breakout film The Sixth Sense was nominated for a whopping 6 Oscars (when was the last time a horror film was nominated for Best Picture?) and became part of the pop-culture zeitgeist. A few hits and misfires afterward (mostly misfires) and the career of the man who was once revered by many as “The Next Hitchcock ” is in question. Enter Split, the film that seems destined to pivot Shyamalan back into the genre spotlight with a little help from the indie horror collective Blumhouse Productions.

Split is one of those premise-driven horror stories that borrows a few tropes from different aspects of the genre. A few teen girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) are abducted out of the blue by a mentally ill creeper (James McAvoy)  and are held hostage in some secluded underground bunker. We learn though some expository dialogue from a therapist named Dr. Fletcher (Becky Buckley) that our abductor Kevin is a man with multiple personalities (23 in fact) that can come and go as they please and seemingly take over Kevin’s personality at will. One is a child named Hedwig. One is a fashion designer named Barry. One is a diabetic named Jade. The most ruthless personality (we are told anyway) and the one who assumedly did the kidnapping is called Dennis, a clean freak with OCD who “enjoys watching little girls get undressed” So there’s that.

Split doesn’t waste any time getting to the action – we see the violence take place even before the opening title makes it way to the screen. Shyamalan does take his time however getting to any sort of suspense, with the first half of the film mostly being filled with two scenarios: 1) the teens awkwardly trying to figure out the particulars of their abduction/abductor and 2) Dr. Fletcher explaining these outright to the audience. It doesn’t quite fit together, and much of the film’s first half feels like Shyamalan isn’t confident enough to run with the premise he set up before his name even appeared in the opening credits. The dialogue for most of these scenes feels so forced and expository, and – at times – thinly veiled with camp aesthetics. I’m almost positive the first appearance of Hedwig was supposed to be more creepy than comical but the theatre I was in started laughing at (not with) McAvoy’s attempt at a 9-year-old boy who wants to brag about the color of his socks.

The film’s third act is when things get really interesting. After a prominent plot twist (a signature of the director’s) things go on overdrive and the Shyamalan with genuine talent shines like a bright beacon of cinematic dread. The last 30 minutes are surprisingly engaging and though not all the pieces of the narrative puzzle fall into place, you get the sense that Shyamalan is trying to flesh out some bigger ideas here. The momentum and suspense builds up at a tidy pace until a last minute cameo that feels nothing more than a shoehorned attempt to remind us that, yes – Shyamalan has directed some great horror movies in his filmography. Split doesn’t quite make the cut his other films have, but it’s still an enjoyable film nonetheless.

Bottom line: You might feel like Shyamalan himself has multiple directorial personalities, but a solid and satisfying third act effectively brings the director back into the horror spotlight. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film recipe: 10 Cloverfield Lane + Identity  

The Visit (2015)

16 Sep

WTF Mr. Shyamalan?

What was hyped up to be the Oscar-nominated director’s return to horror fame was nothing short of a complete clusterfuck. From start to finish, The Visit is a complete cinematic trainwreck delivered in the form of one of the most tired of all horror cliches: found footage. 

Self-financed by Shyamalan himself after having his movies “robbed of artistic integrity” by previous studio heads, the film was shot on a cheap 5 million and distributed by niche horror outlet Blumhouse (Paranormal Activity, Sinister, The Purge). The story follows two chilren Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) as they take a trip to visit their estranged grandparents whom they have never actually met. Of course things get messy when the grandparents start acting up, and it’s up to the kids to find out why. Becca, a bright young filmmaker, is making a documentary out of the whole ordeal as a means to connect her mother with her family and what we see is supposedly the edited footage leftover on her laptop. It’s a cute idea, made even more adorable when young filmmaker Becca is seen onscreen scolding her brother on the merits of mis en scene and narrative tension (almost as if Shyamalan himself is outright reassuring critics and audiences he knows how to make a film). Unfortunately, the “film within a film” concept falls apart fast.

Almost everything in The Visit reeks of desperation. Shyamalan, instead of carefully creating tension and suspense through narrative like he used to, spends too much time switching between cheap jump scares and potty humor as simple provoking devices. These jarring shifts seem to happen at regular and predictable intervals, making for a long and uncomfortable viewing experience. It would work as a sort of campy absurdist piece (think Neil La Bute’s misunderstood The Wicker Man) if Shyamalan wasn’t trying so hard to be sincere.  Long monologues about the value of family and forgiveness feel so thinly veiled and counterfeit, even when being delivered by an actress like Kathryn Hahn.

And yet, perplexingly, watching The Visit was actually somewhat enjoyable – in parts. About halfway through the film, there was this fleeting hope that maybe, just maybe, M. Night was embracing his own inner goofiness and making an intentionally bad comedy. But that feeling only lasted a minute or two before the film dives headfirst into tiring cliches and I was bored again. One of the best moments comes later on when Tyler tries convincing Becca to leave her camera out overnight to capture some of the strangeness that goes on after dark. “I can’t do that for my documentary!” She exclaims, “Where is your sense of cinematic standards?”

In what is easily the most truthful moment in the film, Tyler the replies:  “No one cares about cinematic standards! There is something crazy going on here!”

Bottom Line: Too sappy to be scary and too cringey to be a comedy, The Visit is nothing more than a cheap and desperate attempt to reclaim a director’s former artistic klout. And yet somehow it’s all bizarrely enjoyable. 

Is anyone really having fun here?

Rating: 3/10 

Film Recipe:  Absurdist WTF-ness of The Wicker Man + a kiddie-approved, sanitized version of  V/H/S

Goodnight Mommy (2015)

11 Sep

It’s been the quite the year to be a horror movie fan. From fear-inducing breakout indies like It Follows to horror-comedies like What We Do In The Shadows, to upcoming releases from horror veteran directors like M. Night Shyamalan or Guillermo Del Toro, it seems like we have entered into some new genre reconnaissance. Sure, there will always be the thoughtless franchise sequel or reboot looking to make a quick  cash grab (I’m looking you, Poltergeist), but one look at A24’s new trailer for The Witch shows there is still original quality material to get scared for.

And the trend is spreading outside of North America too. In fact, many of the decade’s best genre films have come from different places in the Middle East,  South Asia or Europe. The new German psychological thriller Goodnight Mommy from directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz fits into the latter camp. Taking its cues from European neo-realist directors like Lars Von Trier and Michael HanekeGoodnight Mommy tells the story of a mystery surrounding a particular dysfunctional family consisting of The Mother (Susanne Wuest) and her twin sons Elias and Lukas (played by real-life twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz). The trio are isolated in a massive, upper class home nestled deep in the German countryside. It’s unclear at first exactly what has happened to this family; we do know the mother’s face appears to have been replaced by a gruesome medical bandage after an operation, and the two boys have some sort of terrifying preoccupation with collecting cockroaches…

The performances from the young twins, though mostly silent, are hauntingly genuine and give the film a launching pad to explore the dynamics of three characters forced to share the same physical and psychological spaces. Slowly and quietly, the film transforms into a walking daytime nightmare – the living, breathing, kind of a nightmare you can not wake from. The end results are raw, disturbing and authentically scary.

A tight slowburn, the film is expertly paced to reveal only the smallest pieces of information when the audience needs it. Goodnight Mommy relies heavily on atmosphere and tone, which Fiala and Franz have crafted to a fine degree. It’s enough to discourage viewers accustomed to constant jump scares and gore, but Goodnight Mommy is too sophisticated for its own good, much so that when the violence does arrive, it is extremely unsettling.

Bottom Line: While its slower pace might not be for everyone, Goodnight Mommy is a quiet but satisfying artistic examination of loneliness and fear with enough depth and emotion to make second viewings an absolute necessity.

Rating: 8/10

Film Recipie: Vic + Flo Saw A Bear (2013) + Dogtooth (2009) + Michael Haneke 

 

After Earth (2013)

2 Jun

Sometime after his last apocalyptic train wreck The Happening, M. Night Shyamalan‘s After Earth features the father/son combo of Will and Jaden Smith learning to survive in a world filled with pheromone smelling beasts.

Things start out with some potential, but the film quickly get dull, predictable, and void of any drama by the time the story is supposed to pick up speed, leaving this movie as an excuse for an established actor to show off his son in front of some poor CGI. Not to rag on someone as young as Jaden, but when you are only preforming alongside a green-screen, minor acting flaws become obviously magnified and things get bad. We’re talking cringe-worthy bad.

The good news here is that Shyamalan’s reputation might rise slightly among his fans, as the movie is more watchable than The Last Airbender. The bad news is that most of his fans are now under the age of 10.

3/10 stars

Similar to: Jumper, Tron: Legacy, 10,000 BC

Dark Shadows (2012)

27 Sep

Dark Shadows is a bit of an embarrassment. In the film, Johnny Depp takes on another role where he is cursed with the gift of immortal life.  I have always wondered what it would be like to never die, and about halfway into this film, I knew what that feeling must be.

I was staring at the screen thinking to myself “oh please just kill me now”, but nope – I was forced to live on and see one embarrassing scene after the next.

What was Tim Burton thinking when he did this film? He knows how to put a story together, but lately it is as if Tim Burton has become the new M. Night Shyamalan – a director who favors style and visuals over story content.

With Dark Shadows, all you really get is a collection of stale jokes that are not very funny.

It’s not funny, it’s not dramatic, It’s not thought provoking, it’s not scary, it’s not really anything worth watching; Dark Shadows is just 2 hours of blah. Sure, there are a few entertaining parts, but they become overshadowed by the preposterous story events that don’t make any sense at all.  The film tries to make some sort of story about a family in financial trouble who need a bit of a hand from (cue vampire) “an old family friend.”  But even this  excuse for a story becomes tainted by tasteless jokes and a nostalgia for the 70’s.

The story is so very badly written; there are too many random events that happen with no overall theme to connect them. During the last twenty minutes you find out the young girl was really a werewolf for example, but it has nothing to do with anything. It was as if halfway through through filming someone pitched the idea to put a werewolf into a film about a vampires as a joke and Tim Burton said “eh why not!!?? it’s just a movie to please the kids anyway right?? lets make one of the main characters a werewolf -who cares if it will make sense?! people are going to pay money to see this anyway because of the Deppster right???”

 

Next time I will have allot more empathy when I see that a character has been cursed to live forever – especially if they are working on a future Tim Burton movie.

Rating 3/10