Release Date: September 11, 2015
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan(screenplay)
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Michelle Rose Domb, Erica Lynne Arden, Benjamin Kanes, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Shelby Lackman, John Buscemi, Dave Jia, Sajida Malik, Patch Darragh, John Douglas Rainey, Michael Mariano, Gabrielle Pentalow, Steve Annan, Richard Barlow, Samuel Stricklen
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 94 minutes
Production Company: Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Budget: $5,000,000 (estimated)
I never knew M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, The Village, After Earth) had the desire to take on comedy. He’s popular in the horror space, offering surprising twists towards the end of his films. At the beginning of his career, the intense build up he had created in his movies and the suspenseful conclusions always seemed to pay off. He was knocking films out of the park. Breathtaking reveals with a great story-telling technique became expected, as he competed with the greats in cinematic history. Then shortly after, his magic disappeared. His films took a 180 degree turn, often filled with ridiculousness and exhaustion. He may be crawling his way back to stardom with this film, which is far superior to his last, but the trailers lead you to believe in a tone that isn’t present at all.
What took center stage at first is the best part of the film. This belongs to the characters Tyler and Rebecca Jamison (Ed Oxwenbould, Olvia DeJonge)—two siblings. In the beginning of the film, the brother and sister are off to see their grandparents for the first time, and undoubtedly, this film wouldn’t have worked without their acting. They both took up ninety percent of the screen time, but Tyler stole the show with his hilarious attitude, doing the normal quips any teenage boy would. There’s a little flavor to his character that delves into music, which sets you up for a number of laughs. He’s genuine and doesn’t care about your opinion, which makes you like him even more. His sister Rebecca is as sweet as can be. She loves her brother and they have a decent relationship. She’s a respected big sister, and her part is well played. On the plus side, I didn’t notice any typical banter between the siblings that can be an annoyance sometimes.
The found footage aspect of filmmaking generally seems as faded out as VCR’s, but this time around, it helped the film in a natural form. Usually I’m able to call out cheats in the movie that don’t add up in the real world, but this time around, my memorization with the film didn’t let me do so. I don’t mean to say I was captivated by the amazement on screen; it’s just that the camera element didn’t bother me as much as I initially anticipated, which made the experience even more worthwhile.
What surprised me the most was how funny the movie was. From the trailers it appeared to be a suspense, horror, thriller, but all those genres took a back seat. Instead the grandparents lead an expedition of the typical stereotype of “old people are weird” that makes you laugh hysterically. It’s the perfect plot device that carries the story along to a logical ending. With each weird event taking place, the movie gives the characters a valid reason to carry the camera around to record the insanity. Tyler and Rebecca’s reaction to every little situation is spot on, and realistic as to not wanting to offend an unknown family member. The thought behind it tugs at your soul, making you think twice about ever visiting your grandparents again.
The story is also an interesting one. I really enjoyed the devices used in the film that set up the relationship between the camera, story, and characters. It was very clever, and in every moment you’re eager to see how it concludes. It made perfect sense to why some forms of communication ceased between parties, which took the mystery to another level. For a moment, from one character’s point of view, the set-up of the story seems immature and extremely selfish. It just goes to show how too much pride can kill a person, or someone who’s very close to you. Although all Shyamalan’s films contain a twist, I didn’t see the twist in this film coming. I was surprised, not shocked, but there’s no disappointment here. It could be considered unbelievable, but possible in a perfect world.
The shock value of the film, however, wasn’t the twist. That reward goes to the tone, being funnier than I ever imagined. There are a few scary moments, but not enough to count. Anticipation builds up but it’s seldom to the maximum level. The jump scares are few and far in between, which changes your perspective about the horror genre of the film completely. While director M. Night Shyamalan’s films are either great or disastrous, this one falls somewhere in the middle. It has all the elements of a solid film and delivers in more ways than one. However, the movie isn’t special enough to be remembered for a long period of time. If you’re looking for horror or a piece that fuels debate, you won’t find it here. But if you want a unique tale of going-out-of-town, this film may make you smile.