Review: The Visit

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DIR/WRI: M. Night Shyamalan •  PRO: Marc Bienstock, Jason Blum, M. Night Shyamalan • DOP: Maryse Alberti • ED: Luke Franco Ciarrocchi • DES: Naaman Marshall • CAST: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie

 

M. Night Shyamalan is something of an anomaly in the world of movie-making. His career has not so much climbed the steady ladder of success as veered wildly in a rollercoaster of inconsistency. Indeed, he seemed set for cinematic greatness with The Sixth Sense in 1999 and evidently has been trying to prove the world wrong since with rubbish such as 2008’s The Happening and 2010’s The Last Airbender. Shyamalan’s newest offering does not serve as a form of redemption- but it’s a step in the right direction.

Fifteen-year-old Becca (DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Oxenbould) set out for a week-long visit to their estranged grandparents, whom their mother (Hahn) has not had contact with since she ran away from home years earlier. Eager to offer her mother some closure, and to discover why her grandparents have held a grudge for so long, Becca, an aspiring filmmaker, decides to document her time with her grandparents through a camera. However, it quickly becomes clear that Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie) are hiding something sinister from the two siblings, and things just get stranger as the week drags on.

The utilisation of the ‘found-footage’ narrative seems like an odd choice for Shyamalan, particularly given the context within the film. Becca is only fifteen yet works her equipment like a pro. Similarly, her younger brother Tyler spouts out phrases like ‘mise-en-scene’ without blinking an eye. Neither of the children speaks (or acts) in an age-appropriate manner; it’s painfully clear that their dialogue was written by an adult who thinks this is what kids should sound like. As a result, our two heroes often come across as annoyingly pretentious and unlikeable. Oh, and the boy raps. That might be the scariest thing in the whole film.

There are some tongue-in-cheek moments that are clearly nods to Shyamalan’s own directorial hubris and, while a bit of self-awareness is always appreciated, it just doesn’t work within the film as a whole. There is a lot of misplaced humour scattered throughout film- usually in the form of Tyler’s wisecracks- that tends to extinguish the tension where it in fact needed building. The dramatic core of the film lies within the children’s anguish of their father’s abandonment. Tyler has become a germaphobe as a result and Becca is suffering from body image issues. These details are not handled delicately and are, in fact, wedged into the latter half of the film with little subsequent reflection. The performance of the two child leads cannot be faulted but the script gives them no room to show off their obvious talent.

The horror element of the film is perhaps its most jumbled aspect. While there are a few small jump scares to be had, and some mildly unsettling imagery, a lot of it comes off as unintentionally humorous. Initially, the children dismiss their grandparent’s odd behaviour as due to their advanced age- because evidently old people by their nature are inherently creepy. Things never truly escalate to a satisfactory level, plateauing sometime in the middle act. The twist revealed in the films third act (what’s a Shyamalan film without a twist, right?) actually does add to the story, but takes away greatly from the horror. When we finally reach the film’s climax, and it does take way too long to get there, everything we see can be explained away by what has just been revealed to us. Danger still lingers, but the unknown no longer has a part to play, thus diluting the experience.

The Visit is not Shyamalan at his worst, but it’s not him at his best either. For those with a keen sense of these things, the film’s twist will become obvious long before it’s actually revealed. Even the most casual of horror fans will be left unimpressed by this work, but if you’re just looking for a couple of cheap thrills- and that alone- then this film is worth checking out. But if you’re as bored with Shyamalan as I am, you won’t be missing anything special.

Ellen Murray

15A (See IFCO for details)
93 minutes

The Visit is released 11th September 2015

The Visit – Official Website

 

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M. Night Shyamalan to Visit Light House

The_Visit

Director M. Night Shyamalan will be in Dublin on Sunday 30th August for the Irish premiere of The Visit (pictured) followed by a Q&A at Light House Cinema.

 

Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan  returns to his roots with the terrifying story of a brother and sister who are sent to their grandparents’ remote Pennsylvania farm for a weeklong trip.  Once the children discover that the elderly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing, they see their chances of getting back home are growing smaller every day.

 

In anticipation of the release of The Visit, the Light House Cinema will also present a weekend of M. Night Shyamalan’s most iconic films from August 28th-29th. The programme includes The Sixth Sense, Signs and Unbreakable.

 

Screening Schedule:

 

The Sixth Sense: 28th August, 8.15pm 

Signs: 29th August, 4pm

Unbreakable: 29th August, 8.30pm

 

Tickets for each screening are now on sale at www.lighthousecinema.ie. Season passes are available for all screenings at €30.

Tickets for The Visit followed by a Q&A are priced at €12 and are available for purchase at www.lighthousecinema.ie .

The Visit is in cinemas on 11th September 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: After Earth

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DIR: M. Night Shyamalan • WRI: Gary Whitta, M. Night Shyamalan • PRO: James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Will Smith • DOP: Peter Suschitzky • ED: Steven Rosenblum • DES: Thomas E. Sanders • Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Isabelle Fuhrman, Sophie Okonedo

The original teaser trailer for After Earth felt like an M. Night Shyamalan movie. In deep space, in the future, super-soldier Will Smith and his would-be hero son Jaden crash land on an unpopulated, savage world. But twist! It’s Earth!

But much like Shyamalan’s last disastrous venture, The Last Airbender, After Earth isn’t one of the director’s traditional twist-based thrillers, rather a sci-fi action adventure film. And once more the director is considerably out of his element.

Based on a story idea by Smith the elder, and written by Shyamalan and Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta, After Earth is a father/son bonding tale set within a clumsily considered (and more clumsily realised) science fiction universe. The whole venture feels like an excuse for Will to show off his son; Shyamalan certainly has no chance to show off anything here.

Set some 1,000 years after Earth is abandoned for environmental reasons, mankind has settled on a sunny, Grand Canyon-esque planet called Nova Prime (‘new one’ – not even the most embarrassing use of Latin this film demonstrates). Ranger Corps general Cypher Raige (Will Smith, overcompensating for how ordinary his real name is) has become the hero of humanity after defeating an alien invasion; in what would probably have been a much more entertaining movie to watch. He has perfected the art of “ghosting”, suppressing all fear so that the alien beasties can’t see him. But the death of his daughter at the claws of one of the creatures has scarred his relationship with his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who has sort of been blamed for her demise despite being only about six at the time it happened.

Attempting to reconnect, Cypher takes Kitai on a mission with him, but soon enough an asteroid collision leaves them the only survivors of the starship once it crashes down to Earth. With Cypher’s leg broken, and the only working distress beacon in the tail section of the starship some miles away (alternative title: ‘Lost in space’), Kitai must venture into the sort-of-unknown to save the day and earn top-billing on the movie posters.

The lush landscape of Earth is now dotted with plenty of predators and poisonous nasties, mostly mild evolutions of creatures we already have – slightly bigger eagles, slightly bigger cougars, slightly bigger monkeys, slightly bigger leeches, ordinary-sized boars. But, due to science and why-the-hell-not-ery, the temperature plummets to below freezing after nightfall, meaning Kitai must race to reach a series of hot spots – thermal safe zones, assumedly where he can save his game and regenerate in case he is killed in his mission.

In a plot mechanic worryingly borrowed from space Viking movie Outlander, an alien being transported by the ship has also survived, and is after Kitai, who must prove himself a fearless hero like his father. The alien, a feral xenomorph thing that shoots needles, is called an ‘ursa’, from the Latin for ‘bear’, because screw education that’s why. There is nothing remotely bear-ish about these things.

There is almost a decent story in the pre-Earth sequences of this film, although Will Smith’s robotic delivery and 14-year-old Jaden’s slightly awkward performance don’t capture the militant father/struggling son dynamic as well as maybe it appeared behind the scenes. Smith Sr., reduced to Morgan Freeman impressions in Jaden’s ear for much of the film, gives his son as much room as he can to act the star, but the young performer is just not up to carrying a movie – especially with only CGI animals to perform against for much of the time.

The locations are lush but the CGI is poor, and when swarms of computerised monkeys rumble through the ferns it looks almost laughable. The action scenes in general are disastrous, with all but one of them cut short after only a minute – an aerial showdown with an eagle ends almost as soon as it begins.

While the architecture of Nova Prime is briefly interesting, the story leaves it so quickly that we never have a chance to be wowed by the $130m production values. The inside of Cypher’s ship looks like something out of Blake’s 7, all cardboard walls and hangar netting. They were going for a look, clearly, but they forgot to finish it. The one piece of design truly worth commending is in the Ranger Corps’ weaponry – they wield ‘cutlasses’, blade handles with control panels on them allowing the wielder to select the blade of their choosing to shoot out from it. It’s a nice idea, and gets a few brief clever uses; but if you’ll remember the last time a sword was the best thing about a film you were watching The Phantom Menace.

It’s impossible to know what anyone saw in this project. What is the moral? Certainly not environmentalism – mankind has only been gone a millennia and Earth looks gorgeous again! The father/son bond is central but never really pushed, and climaxes on a remarkably awkward joke that suggests not so much an understanding has been reached but that neither man is up to their line of work. Wedged in the middle is the most preposterous re-enactment of Androcles and the Lion you could ever hope to witness. The running theme of overcoming fear allows for a lot of The Secret-meets-FDR nonsense talk from Smith, suggesting fear is something we choose to have, even when watching our sisters get impaled by colossal lizard bug monsters, called bears.

Shyamalan’s failure is most of all not knowing how to control an action sequence, and he seems to have no sense of what audiences want from their thrill rides. Lacking pacing, drama, emotion, action and even a truly unique vision, After Earth is about as big a dud as Hollywood can hope to churn out these days. Not even the combined starpower of Mr. and Mr. Smith can save this one.

 

David Neary

12A (see IFCO website for details)

99 mins
After Earth is released on 7th June 2013

After Earth – Official Website

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The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender

DIR/WRI: M. Night Shyamalan • PRO: Scott Aversano, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, M. Night Shyamalan • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Conrad Buff IV • DES: Philip Messina • CAST: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis

Firstly, The Last Airbender is by no means the worst film ever made. It’s a far shot from perfect, but why it has everyone’s so bent out of shape is baffling. Perhaps M Night Shyamalan is just an easy target.

The fact is it’s adequate. This would be the fairest estimation of director Shyamalan ‘s 103 minute film. And by ‘film’, I mean ‘uninspired synopsis of Avatar Season One’. The Last Airbender desperately struggles to cram in each important detail of its source material, rather than ruthlessly edit it into a cohesive tale or, heaven forbid, bend it into a brave new interpretation.It feels more like sitting through a fictitious history lecture rather than an engaging movie. Learning?! Nobody said anything about that!!

The major problems flow from said oversaturation. The Last Airbender relies heavily on narration. Unfortunately, it seems the film spends more time telling you what’s happening, than simply showcasing it. This has a seriously detrimental effect on the amount viewers invest in the story and characters.

Occasionally the narration gets very confused. Not only does it tell rather than show, but tells then shows the exact same incident or shows then tells you what you just saw. This is one of the few sources of genuine laughter in the film. A shame it wasn’t intentional.

There is an impression that the filmmakers were not overly familiar with the source material. Any fan of the series can tell much of the pronunciation has been altered. Arguably this is to put an individual stamp on the work, but perhaps it is ignorance of the cartoon’s intricacies.

Similarly, the acting here is textbook (expect nothing special from Dev Patel’s tortured prince Zuko) and the child-like vigor and energy which made the original characters endearing is completely absent. Even young children like Aang (Noah Ringer) and Katara (Nicola Peltz) act like child shaped adults. A peculiar decision for a children’s film.

And without this childlike wonder, simplicity or overreaction, the persistently serious tone prompts the evaporation of all tension. The film is overly serious, and could benefit from some much needed humour. Originally Sokka eased the grave overtone with comic gold, however apparently there was a conscious decision to make Jackson Rathbone’s portrayal less humorous, more adult. The mind boggles.

Thankfully, The Last Airbender isn’t all hot air. There are decent action set pieces revolving around elemental manipulation called bending (magic or superpowers in other genres). The effects are competent and each bending (??) is complimented by a kung fu flourish which aids identity and legitimacy. Also, there is some sword and fist fighting thrown in for good measure. The action mercifully unfolds in clear and steady takes. The visual effects generally convince, though close ups of the Appa the flying bison’s cartoonish mug could use a makeover. Otherwise the animals, elemental effects, ships and most sets look well.

Please Note: To save oneself money, and two hours wearing foggy plastic spectacles; find a 2D showing.

It’s not entirely fair to compare this film to its infinitely superior original series (although it sort of asks for it, what with the name and all!) This is an original adaptation and deserves to be judged in isolation. However, had Shyamalan paid a bit more attention to what made the original cartoon such a hit (unlikely notions such as humour, playfulness and excitement), and tried to develop a fresh take on the franchise, The Last Airbender could have soared rather than sunk.

Jack McGlynn

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)

The Last Airbender is released on 13th August 2010

The Last Airbender Official Website

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