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New Escapist Column! On the Thrills and Disappointments of “Knock at the Cabin”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist during the week. With the release of Knock at the Cabin this weekend, it seemed worth taking a look at the latest movie from M. Night Shyamalan.

Knock at the Cabin is by turns fascinating and frustrating. It is a movie that works really well as a claustrophic and ambiguous thriller, a home invasion movie that is essentially a battle of wills over belief. However, it suffers somewhat from the fact that Shyamalan can’t stay within the cabin. At various points, the narrative has to become bigger and more epic, and in doing so, it unravels the tension that makes the best scenes in the movie so compelling.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Red Lights

With Buried, Rodrigo Cortés demonstrated a skill for executing a Hitchcock-esque high concept. While it wasn’t an entirely successful experiment, it demonstrated that Cortés was a talent to watch. His follow-up, Red Lights, affirms that potential, though it also fails to entirely deliver on its fascinating high concept. Cortés shows a real talent for the technical craft of direction – for framing his shots, use of colour and light and space, pacing and even editing. Writing, directing and editing this film, he demonstrates skill with big ideas and high concepts, as well as skill on a frame-to-frame basis. However, he’s still missing some connection between the two – some intangible skill at developing big ideas into dramatic story beats to fit his own style of film-making. That’s not to say that Red Lights isn’t a fascinating a well-crafted film, just to explain that there are some fundamental flaws.

Do you believe?

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Non-Review Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go is a mess of a film. Adapted from the highly-praised novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro (who also wrote the novel that inspired The Remains of the Day), the movie is never really sure what it is talking about, or how it’s talking about it, or even what the point of it all is. There are two superb performances at the middle of the movie, but there’s not nearly enough constructed around them to really make it interesting. Director Mark Romanek cannot decide whether he’s telling a conventional love story in an unconventional setting (with the clear moral that “there’s never enough time”) or if he’s exploring the issue of bio-ethics through the prism of human nature. Ultimately, the film tries to both at the same time, which becomes impossible with Romanek’s cold and efficient direction, which left me feeling quite unsatisfied.

Stumbling out of the gate...

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Non-Review Review: Signs

You know what? Even though history and experience has retroactively soured the movie, with M. Night Shyamalan’s career entering freefall and Mel Gibson’s personal problems clouding his career, I kinda like Signs. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that the movie represents Shymalan’s last good film. That said, it’s a well-constructed and engaging little thriller that is, unfortunately, hugely flawed. Some of these flaws are so fundamental that they’re hard to ignore, but I think that this movie was the last time that Shyamalan demonstrated a real organic talent and skill for film making.

Shine a light on it...

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Non-Review Review: The Village

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing there’s a twist in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. In fact, the only shocking twist in a Shyamalan film would be if there was no twist. I have to admit that even I was a little surprised when I guessed the twist about twenty minutes into this film. And I was sadly disappointed that there really wasn’t anything else on screen to hold my interest.

Village people...

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Clip from Devil

The guys from Universal Studios Ireland sent over the following clip from Devil. It’s part of a proposed series of films from M. Night Shyamalan that’s he’s deeming “Night Chronicles”. In fairness, the director’s stock has taken a huge fall from its peak with The Sixth Sense (although I’ll argue Unbreakable is his true masterpiece), but it looks like he’s taking something of a backseat on this production – it’s actually directed by Drew & John Erick Dowdle, the guys responsible for the quite good (but not a patch on the Spanish original) Quarantine. Being honest, it could go either way, but the premise – several strangers trapped in a lift and one of them may be Satan – is intriguing enough that it could be the horror hit of the year or it could be terrible.

I guess we’ll see… Check out the clip below.

Straight Up, With A Twist…

In the run-up to Inception, I got thinking about Christopher Nolan’s extensive filmography, and how many movies of his involve massive twists in the last third (The Dark Knight is arguably the exception, unless you consider the addition of a second villain to be a ‘twist’). It got me thinking about the nature of plot twists and how they can essentially harm and help a movie.

Yes, this would be the best twist ending ever...

Note: This article is going to discuss twists on the ends of movies and – as such – might be fairly heavy on the old spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

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Hollywood & The Race Lift

I had to represent. Cause they had one good role for a black man, and they gave it to Crocodile Dundee!

-Alpa Chino, Tropic Thunder

Earlier in the week, Cinematical ran an article on M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, Avatar: The Last Airbender. For those unaware, the movie is an adaptation of a hit anime, long due a trip to the screen – I hope it ends up either significantly better than, or significantly trippier than, Speed Racer, the most recent such attempt (seriously, it’s what I imagine really hard drugs are like). Of course, this being Hollywood, Shyamalan has secured a predominantly white cast for his film. Well, except for one of the major roles, which will go to Dev Patel. The fact that that role is the role of the villain probably doesn’t help none, nor does the fact Patel was only the second choice. So why does Hollywood insist on the race lift?

Is the cast ethnicity a sticking point?

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Non-Review Review: Unbreakable

When people hear the name M. Night Shyamalan, a lot of different films pop into their heads. Everyone knows The Sixth Sense – most know Signs. He’s ridiculed for The Village and The Happening. The Lady in the Water slips under the radar, but that might be a good thing. What tends to get forgotten in the midst of all this is Unbreakable, which is probably the best movie that Shyamalan has directed. He’s known as something of a one-trick pony, relying on twist endings that throw his audience for a loop and – though Unbreakable contains its own novel twist in the tale – this is the one film on his filmography that doesn’t depend on that reveal. It’s a movie that stands up to the scrutiny of a second viewing answering questions and actually seeming painstakingly obvious in retrospect. It’s so good that it barely missed my list of the top 50 movies of the decade.

Holding out for a hero...

Note: As alluded above, the ending of this movie is a key part of discussion about it. Rather than splitting this post in half, I’m going to discuss it below. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a head’s up. I would make one recommendation though: don’t spoil the movie for yourself. It works better whent he audience doesn’t know quite what they are expecting. You could make the case about most movies, but I think that this movie in particular deserves to be seen sight unseen with an open mind.

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Non-Review Review: The Happening

Something’s happening… And it’s happening all over the East Coast… And it’s just happening to people without a reason… And… oh, that’s what’s happening? What the hell was M. Night Shyamalan smoking? Probably some killer grass.

It's a car crash of a movie...

Note: This review contains spoilers. But I’ll flag them beforehand. Still – you have been warned. Oh, and – if you’re looking for a recommendation – the only appeal of the film is in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. It’s the movie that Lesbian Vampire Killers wishes it were.

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