It’s basically impossible to review an M. Night Shyamalan film without addressing…well how his career has gone. Shyamalan burst onto the scene in 1999 with the critical and commercial smash hit The Sixth Sense and after both of his follow ups, Unbreakable and Signs were similarly well received, people were beginning to talk about him as the next big thing in film (a memorable Newsweek cover named him the next Spielberg). And that, ladies and gents, is when things began to go…wrong.
No one has ever been able to nail down what exactly went wrong, but something did and all of his movies post-Signs have been varying degrees of terrible. Still, we all know what that means: Low expectations. Between the incredibly poor quality of his previous films and the incredibly low quality of movies this year (the last movie I saw in theaters was Pixels. F**king Pixels) the bar for Acceptable has literally never been lower for Shyamalan.
The plot is concerned with two kids, Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) who are being raised by a single mother, Paula (Kathryn Hahn). Paula left home when she was 19, running off with a substitute teacher before he left her, and hasn’t seen her parents since she left. But her kids are insisting on getting to see their grandparents, who they’ve never met or even spoken to.
So off they go to meet their grandparents, Doris (Deanna Dunagan) and John (Peter McRobbie), with Rebecca intending to document the whole thing with her video camera (yes, it’s a found footage movie, complete with asides about musical juxtaposition, mise en scene and talking head style interviews). But their grandparents appear to be acting strangely, avoiding other people and doing odd things at night. And they seem to be getting stranger and more dangerous as the visit goes on.
Okay, so that’s a reasonably solid setup for a horror film. Child endangerment is an easy setup for tension, but it works, which is why horror movies keep going back to it. Plus the setup and basic story lend themselves nicely to a mystery and slowly building tension. Plus the isolated location and elderly people allows for a not entirely unreasonable lack of communication with the outside world. I’ve seen pretty good movies made out of much worse setups.
So. How did he f**k that up?
There’s a metric ton of problems with this movie, but I feel like the root of all of the biggest ones is that old Shyamalan chestnut: The twist. The movie is, of course, building towards a big twist, but in this case the twist is not only mind-numbingly boring, but incredibly easy to predict (I called it like half an hour in). Part of that is simply because the movie is taking such careful pains to try and conceal it, that it ends up revealing way too much simply by what it’s trying to hide. It also starts dropping red herrings way too late for them to be credible and it takes far, far, FAR too long for things to escalate from ‘Weird’ to ‘Threatening.’
That could be enough to sink the twist already, but I really can’t overstate how boring the end reveal is. They have dozens of options for why these old people are acting crazy, but they wind up going with the least interesting one. It also has the effect of sucking any remaining tension out of the room. Once we find out what’s really going on, it becomes increasingly clear that the movie has run out of ways to make me believe that the children are in any real danger.
But the movie is in crisis even before the twist hits. The movie is completely unable to structure any of its scares in a way that works, although that might be because the movie doesn’t seem to realize what makes its concept creepy. It has its moments and the two older actors are working their hardest to sell their thankless roles, but overall it’s easily one of the least scary horror movies I’ve seen in a while. It’s probably a bad sign that every time the movie is trying to scare me, I wound up laughing hysterically.
Of course, it’s been suggested to me that this movie might have been intended as a horror/comedy. Ignoring, for the moment, that horror/comedy is one of the hardest combinations to pull off, I definitely don’t think it’s working here. I can usually tell when a movie is trying to be scary or funny, and in this case, all of the scenes that are intended to be scary are funny and all the scenes that are intended to be funny are just weird or irritating.
On that note, the character work is pretty awful. Rebecca isn’t terrible, as POV characters go, and she’s definitely got an interesting arc buried deep under attempts at being meta and cute about movie making, but it gets overwhelmed by the rest of them. Neither of the grandparents get any real depth (mostly in service of the twist) and the little brother is awful. I don’t know who told M. Night Shyamalan that having a 13 year old white kid being obsessed with becoming a rapper (up to, and including, him rapping over the end credits) would be endearing, but by the end of the movie he was so annoying I was praying one of the two adults would kill him.
I’m almost tempted to spoil this movie, just to avoid the possibility of people going to see it just to see the twist (wikipedia exists people) but I won’t. Instead, I’ll spoil a relatively minor scene, just to give you an idea of what you’d be in for. One of the climactic scenes of this movie involves one of the two kids getting hit in the face with a used diaper. This is a thing that happens. And this is not a weird moment of comedy either, this is not only a scene that builds for a solid 2 minutes and is the payoff of a movie length subplot. It is, as far as I can tell, intended to be taken dead serious. And it’s also an appropriate metaphor for what watching this movie is like.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and while writing this review, he got an enraged series of texts from the friend he saw it with about how terrible it was.
– both of the older actors are trying really hard
– Rebecca is reasonably well acted
– not a terrible concept
– godawful execution of the concept
– completely incompetent tone
– really slow pacing