M. Night Shyamalan

All posts tagged M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan Surprises with The Visit

Published September 13, 2015 by vfdpixie

TheVisit

The Visit (2015, I hr, 34 mins)

 

Remember when The Sixth Sense created a buzz in 1999 and got all those Oscar nominations?  And then came Unbreakable (2000), which was a different take on the superhero, and Signs (2002), where aliens invade Earth while a grieving pastor questions his reason for being, both also critically acclaimed.  These films all paved a yellow brick road for M. Night Shyamalan, giving him the reputation for being a fresh voice in the horror, sci-fi and supernatural genres.  Unfortunately, he came out with more than a few misses, like The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008),  and After Earth (2013), branding him with an involuntary roll of the eyes when mentioned by the less than forgiving masses.  Thankfully, his latest contribution does the opposite by taking the already tedious found footage genre and pumping refreshingly new life into it with The Visit.

15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are going to visit their grandparents for the first time.  Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) has been estranged from her parents for 15 years, and at their request, she is reluctantly sending the kids on a week-long stay at their farm in rural Pennsylvania.  Becca is a budding filmmaker and wants to create a documentary based on her mother’s life and familial rift in the hopes of a reunion in the future, so this trip makes for great content and she plans to catch everything on film.

When the kids meet their grandparents, they are excited and apprehensive.  The air is cordial and slightly awkward as they get to know each other, and they explore their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop’s (Peter McRobbie) farm, trying get an angle on them, but things get stranger and stranger as the week goes by.  The seniors exhibit odd and disturbing behaviour, warning their grandkids to stay in their room after 9:30 p.m. because of Nana’s strange nocturnal afflictions.  This leaves Becca and Tyler baffled and soon terrified as a gruesome secret is revealed.

I was on the fence as to whether I would see this latest Shyamalan attempt, since I too was one of those eye-rollers.  I loved his first few films, and I think Devil was underrated, but The Village and The Happening left a bad taste in my mouth, and I became wary of the now expected twist with his films.  He regained my trust recently with Wayward Pines, where he directed the pilot and produced the series.  I had to give him credit with his efforts to tell this weird and wonderful tale, and now he has won me over again with The Visit.

It was refreshing that I didn’t know what to expect from seeing the commercials and the trailer.  I did wonder if it was a comedy because of Kathryn Hahn, who has a long comedic resume, and I was right, but there was no slapstick here.  Instead, there was a slow burn build-up of weirdness and Oxenbould’s brilliant portrayal of the nerdy and hilarious hip-hop enthusiast Tyler made the film for me.  His timing broke up tension in a way that mirrored audience reactions and added to the overall mystery of the plot.  Dunagan and McRobbie took the archetypical loving grandparents to a sinister place and didn’t hold back once the plot turned, and look out for some old school Brothers Grimm references.  Oh, and that Shyamalan twist is very present and will not disappoint.

As the end credits rolled for The Visit, I couldn’t help but think this was a cinematic raspberry blown at those of us who reminded him how terrible some of his efforts were, and to offset the many Golden Raspberry Awards he’s won in the past.  This time, with a mere 5 million dollar budget, Shyamalan redeems himself.  Aside from a couple of dead-end scares and a somewhat sappy ending, he successfully leads us down a road with blinders on only to rip them off and shove us off a pretty crazy cliff.  Go see it if you want a surprising horror comedy with Hansel and Gretel overtones and a decent found footage revival.

 

 

 

 

Hamlet of Horror: A Look at Wayward Pines

Published June 5, 2015 by vfdpixie

waywardpines

Wayward Pines (T.V. series, 2015)

 

Being isolated in one location, be it a small town or a mysterious island, is a terrifying concept in horror and sci-fi since as humans, most of us have an insatiable lust for freedom.  Classic representations of this theme in The Stepford Wives, Twin Peaks, and Lost makes us uneasy as secrets, the supernatural and suppression take control, while (in my opinion) the excruciating Under the Dome puts us (or at least me) asleep with unseen threats and captors.  The latest contribution to this roster, Wayward Pines, is a weird take on the isolated, sleepy town that is not what it seems.

Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) is a secret service agent searching for two of his colleagues.  On his way to their last destination of Wayward Pines, Idaho, he is involved in a car crash, and disoriented, staggers into the small idyllic town hidden in the mountains.  He ends up in a deserted hospital under the care of Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo) and soon discharges himself when he realizes he has no wallet, no phone and no contact with the outside world, frantically searching for answers and trying to keep his grip on reality.

Wayward Pines’ tightly wound Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard) and the townspeople are a strange bunch, and not forthcoming with any information due to the town’s restrictive code of conduct, save for a bartender named Beverly (Juliette Lewis) who becomes Ethan’s guide in this surreal hamlet.  He soon learns he cannot leave, and the agents he is looking for come to different, and sinister, fates.  Ethan’s wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) clings to the hope that his disappearance can be explained, and her determination to find him matches his to leave the locked-down town.  What makes this story all the more interesting is Ethan’s previous breakdown from a case gone wrong.  He felt he could have prevented the disastrous outcome and his hallucinatory symptoms from the past makes the viewer wonder whether his experience in the town is real.  There is also a strange difference in timelines that has him, and some inhabitants, confused.

Wayward Pines is based on a trilogy of books by Blake Crouch, who was so influenced by Twin Peaks in the 90’s that he basically wrote an homage to the series.  Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directed the pilot, this series is bubbling with secrets and nuances.  I have to say I was a little concerned when I heard Shyamalan was involved, as I had visions of The Village and the train wreck that movie was; but having read the first part of this trilogy, the writing for the show is smart and illustrates the suspense and atmosphere of dread that is so prevalent in the book.  Along with Crouch, series creator Chad Hodge also streamlines the action in the novel, which was at times overly descriptive, to create intrigue that slowly reveals what will hopefully be a first class ticket to bizarro-land (in a good way).

Oscar and Emmy nominees grace the cast with the likes of Terrence Howard and the acclaimed Toby Jones as Dr. Jenkins; and I love Matt Dillon who is one of the most underrated actors around, as well as the always fabulous Juliette Lewis and Oscar winner Melissa Leo as the nasty, ball-breaking nurse Pam.  It is great to see mainly big-screen actors take the leap to television, which may draw a larger audience.

While not for everyone, I really hope this show goes the distance.  It took me a few episodes to warm up to Wayward Pines, but after reading the first book for a better understanding of the story and this past 4th episode of a 10-part season that may or may not be a one-off, things are starting to get really interesting.  It is similar to Twin Peaks, and perhaps to some degree Lost, but it also stands alone with a uniquely weird twist that, if the show stay true to the books and doesn’t go off the rails, will blow some minds out there.

 

Wayward Pines airs Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET on Citytv in Canada and Fox in the U.S.

*Looking for the books?  I searched high and low, visiting several book stores in my hometown with no luck unless I wanted to place a specific order, but your best bet is to download the free Kindle app and get a digital copy from Amazon here.  Please note that the first book is entitled “Pines” and it is a decently written, easy read.

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