Tag Archives: The Sixth Sense

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  

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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