Tag Archives: Shyamalan

Knock at the Cabin

3 Feb

Who’s there is not guests you’d want showing up on family glamping trip

By Tom Meek, Thursday, February 2, 2023

Gay guys rule the apocalypse. With “Knock at the Cabin,” the latest from M. Night Shyamalan, and the “Long, Long Time” chapter of the zombie plague video-game-turned-HBO series “The Last of Us,” this fact can be now be officially confirmed. It’s a good thing too, because they’re the most interesting, fully formed players on screen – the only reason the series maintains an edge and that “Cabin” is more than just an outré M. Night “Twilight Zone”-inspired curio.

Since breaking in with “The Sixth Sense” in 1999, Shyamalan has largely made his buck with misdirection plot pivots that sometimes deliver (“Unbreakable” and “The Village”) and other times fall down woefully (“The Happening” and “Lady in the Water”). We won’t talk about some very bad departures from the format – okay, we will: the inert “After Earth” (2013) and inept “The Last Airbender” (2010) – but Shyamalan got back on track with the creepy grandparent thriller “The Visit” (2015) and the concluding chapters to his “Unbreakable” trilogy, “Split” (2016, in which James McAvoy is so good) and “Glass” (2019).“Old,” the 2021 film about a resort island where the aging process goes haywire, had promise and an excellent ensemble (Alex Wolff, Vicky Krieps and Gael García Bernal), but wasn’t quite top-shelf Shyamalan. “Knock at the Cabin” is a bit more the same. It starts with a couple (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) and their adopted daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), glamping at the woodsy structure of the title. Musty odors and squeaky screen doors this is not, with a spacious main room replete with a central fireplace, flat-screen TVs and columns of stately bookshelves nearly worthy of comparison to the square-jawed angularity of the dads, Eric (Groff, from the excellent “Mindhunter” series) and the rugged Andrew (Aldridge, of “Fleabag”). 

The vacation gets interrupted when Dave Bautista‘s hulking Leonard encounters Wen out catching grasshoppers and demands to speak to her fathers. Leonard’s got three friends, Redmond (Rupert Grint, very far from his ”Harry Potter” days), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird, “Persuasion”) and Adriane (Abby Quinn, “Torn Hearts”), a teacher, construction worker, nurse and a cook who come with garish homemade weapons. They share a vision of the world ending, and after tying up the dads home-invasion style (think “The Strangers” or “Funny Games”) give the dads and Wen an ultimatum: Choose one of the three to sacrifice to save the world. Are these four ostensible horsemen of the apocalypse crazy? And if not, why is god, Satan or an alien power giving us the mandate now?  

Reports on those televisions show tsunamis consuming beaches, planes falling from the sky and worse. Time is ticking down and a decision must be made, but there are rules: The four can’t harm the three – and don’t want to – but can restrain them. And one of the four must pay in flesh at the top of each hour if a decision isn’t made, enforced by the others with those ghoulish weapons. The film, based on Boston-area author and teacher Paul Tremblay‘s 2018 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World,” becomes something of a stage play rooted in one locale, similar to Daren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” and quite cyclical – nearly running out of gas before the final frame. What keeps it going are the performances by Groff, Aldrich and the scene-grabbing Cui, the humanity of their tribe delineated by touching flashbacks of how they came to be, cleft lip and all, the slow-emerging profiles of the four at the door and some awkward yet interesting veers into homophobia as a possible agent in the mix. 

Religious overtones and bigger themes feel tacked on and the final resolution feels like a plop in a lake, but hey, the dads and Wen are a fun lot to spend time with, be it woodsy recreation, cataloging nature or battling the evils of the universe to absolve all of humankind.


17 Jan

Glass’: In face-off two decades in the making, Shyamalan reveals he’s lost his powers again


Image result for glass movie

Back in 2008 I just about threw in the towel on M. Night Shyamalan after the pointless “The Happening” made its way to the big screen. Never before had something so deadly but mysterious (was it the trees?) seemed so silly and inane – “Bird Box,” similar in concept, is a massive step up by comparison. “Signs” (2002) and “The Village” (2004) were big finale-twist flicks that tried too hard to emulate the skillful sleight of hand that Shyamalan’s classic “The Sixth Sense” did in 1999, but the artifice was obvious too early. “The Visit” (2015) resurrected my faith. It was something different, a horror-in-the-woods psychological thriller B movie with “American Gothic” granddad and grandma as class A homicidal nuts with warm smiles on their faces and cups of cider in their hands. “Split” (2016) seemed another quirky turn for Shyamalan akin to “The Visit,” as it focused on a disturbed young man (James McAvoy) who takes young women hostages, horrifies and fascinates them with his 20 or so personalities and ultimately mutilates them with a superhuman persona known as The Beast (both a physiological and psychological transformation). It felt like an intriguing one-off driven by a fantastic performance by McAvoy, showing range and humor you suspected he had but had yet to see – but wait, what’s that at the end? A tie back to Shyamalan’s 2000 superhero-among-us flick, “Unbreakable.”

If you missed “Split” but are a fan of “Unbreakable” I can give you the green light to proceed here and see “Glass” without hesitation. Bruce Willis is back as David, Philly’s working-class man of steel who, as the lone survivor of a massive train wreck, is somehow able to fall from great heights without a scratch. He’s still lurking on the streets in his green rain poncho, doing minor bouts of vigilante good and pissing off the police. Samuel L. Jackson, as the evil mastermind who blew up the train in “Unbreakable,” reprises his title character, Mr. Glass. It’s a nice reunion, but what do these rivals have to do with McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb? Well, Glass has been incarcerated in an asylum and drugged up for 19 years, while David, investigating a slew of cheerleader massacres, susses out the Beast & Co., nabbing him on the cusp of his next slaughter; for the effort, he and The Beast end up with Glass in the ridiculously low-security asylum. Enter Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who for some reason has three days to convince the trio that their superhuman skills are delusions – and then, it’s implied, they all get to go free? Cockamamie convolution to be sure, but Glass, more obsessed with comic books and superhero history than Kevin Smith, believes his arch-villain magnum opus will be to break David and The Beast out and have them wage battle on the new Osaka skyscraper towering above the Philly skyline. (I kept thinking Nakatomi Plaza, more a lingering effect from my repeated Christmas viewings of “Die Hard” than Willis’ presence.)

There’s more to the too-long-to-get-to-the-point buildup than I care to explain, including the fact David has a son (Spencer Treat Clark) and that one of the survivors from “Split” (Anya Taylor-Joy) shows up; while they’re fine, they only add more stumbling blocks to an already clunky confluence. (I never got why Willis’ David always wore that vinyl rain poncho. To hide his identity? A thick vinyl rain jacked is a sauna, and too flimsy and vision-obstructing for real combat.) It’s not that “Glass” doesn’t entertain, but it does so mostly on the performance by McAvoy and, to a lesser extent, Jackson and Paulson, who’s not given much to work with. Willis strangely mumbles his through the film and never raises a brow above nonchalance, even when David first encounters The Beast. The most eye-catching of all is Shyamalan, who in a brief Hitchcock insertion makes Quentin Tarantino look like Peter Finch – “stilted” is the word. The film wraps with what’s supposed to be a cathartic coming together, but even that, orchestrated in a Philly train terminal with folks having a universal iPhone epiphany, makes about as much sense as the whispering trees in “The Happening.”

The Visit

13 Sep

After “The Last Airbender” (2010) and “After Earth” (2013), films that did not see the north side of a 5 user rating on IMDB (out of 10), one might have thought M. Night Shyamalan done. A near one-hit-wonder with the clever ghost story “The Sixth Sense,” Shyamalan enjoyed limited successes with followups “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Signs” (2002), but for the man known for enigmatic eeriness and devilish plot twists, things took a drastic veer into the inept with the misguided “The Happening” (2008), in which photosynthesizing trees conspired to rid earth of man.

091215i The Visit“The Visit,” Shyamalan’s latest, is a minor rebound of sorts. It’s laughably silly at times, but in a campy, good way – though I’m not convinced Shyamalan’s always in on the gag. One such curio is the old-timer named Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) who shits his adult diapers and stores his accidents in the shed out back of a farm house in rural PA. Pop Pop and his Nana (a lithe grand-matronly Deanna Dunagan), while estranged from their daughter (Kathryn Hahn) who left home at 19 for an older man and winds up dumped and a single mother, get their first visit from the grandchildren in 15 years. Mom’s happy about this arrangement too, which lets her jet off on a cruise with a boyfriend who likes to enter hairy-chest contests.

The kids, 15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge), who’s toting a videocamera to chronicle the epic family meet-up (think “Cloverfield” or “The Blair Witch Project”), and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), figure something’s amiss the first night in when they find Nana cruising the halls projectile vomiting. They’re told Nana sundowns and that it’s best to stay in their room after 9:30 p.m. Nana’s an odd one – she can bake up delicious goodies, but when roving the house at night or playing hide-and-seek with the kids under the house, she moves like something from “The Ring” or “Insidious” films, disjointed and pale with the hair draped across her face and all the vigor and speed of an attacking croc. Then there’s her naughty nakedness. Sometimes it’s just a left cheek sneak, other times a full-frontal freakishness.

The one thing that’s for sure is the kids are in peril, and grandma and grandpa are definitely not the two kind souls who caretake down at the rehabilitation center. The beauty of “The Visit” isn’t so much the concept, but the execution. Shyamalan seems like he’s back from a long vacation and in perfectionist mode. The ambiance is spot-on eerie and tense, and a huge up-sell of the flimsy undercarriage. The cinematography by Maryse Alberti (she’s filmed many respectables, including “The Wrestler,” “Crumb” and “Happiness”) is artily shot and lushly dark, elevating and sustaining Shyamalan’s staging. But the real key to “The Visit,” holding us rapt throughout, are the four principals. Becca’s the most off-the-shelf, but DeJonge manages to make her deeper than her labels. Oxenbould gets the juicer role as the less serious one, cocky and an aspiring rapper who decides to drop the word “ho” and four-letter words from his vocab and replace them with random female pop stars (ie “Katy Perry, that hurts!”). As Pop Pop, McRobbie is adequately grizzled and intimidating enough, but the real glue to “The Visit” is Dunagan, mostly a stage actress, who imbues Nana with soulfulness and genuinely creepy malevolence even when serving up a cookie or playing Yahtzee!. “The Visit” probably won’t register as a comeback hit, but it should bode well for what’s next for all the players on both sides of the lens.