It’s probably safe to say that acclaimed director M Night Shyamalan has been off his game for a few years, with such poorly received movies as The Last Airbender and The Happening. However recently there seems to have been a slight return to form, what with the well received The Visit and now this much talked about thriller. James McAvoy plays a disturbed man who suffers from dissociative personality disorder and claims to have 23 different personalities all vying for attention. Told with a combination of visits to his psychiatrist and the kidnapping of three young women by his more sociopathic personalities, this sets the stage for a clever little thriller, held together by a demanding and often eye-opening performance.
The initial impression I got from the trailer (and I tend to avoid trailers for the most part) wasn’t all that positive despite plenty of good word-of-mouth. McAvoy you see delivers a myriad of different performances here, some menacing, others it has to be said rather absurd and silly (do we really need him to do a rather dodgy impression of a nine year old boy, complete with a lisp?) and less said about the campy female personality the better. Which is a shame as Shyamalan’s direction is tight and atmospheric, full of eerie camera movement not unlike something from a Hitchcock movie and great use of claustrophobic locations. The three turns from the kidnapped girls are also good, especially from The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy (an actress who continues to impress). However a final twist involving a 24th personality throws the movie into schlocky horror, doing away with it’s otherwise semi-realistic tone … and well, we get a final scene that adds a connection to an earlier Shyamalan movie that just felt forced.
However with what has to be said is a colourful and impressive turn from McAvoy (his transitions from certain personalities are damn freaky) and bags of tension I still found myself entertained. Just sad the idea promised much more than the movie could eventually deliver.
A corporate risk management consultant (Kate Mara) is called to a secluded research facility after a top secret test subject attacks a doctor, leaving her blinded in one eye. Said test subject turns out to be an artificially engineered young girl. Was her actions a one-off or is she dangerous?
Immediately this brought back memories of movies like Ex Machina and Splice and is always for me a fascinating subject. Mara plays the stiff collared consultant called in and she’s one of those actress’s I’ve become increasingly aware of, following memorable turns in House of Cards and Gone Girl. Although I’ve seen her as a much more feisty presence … she handled herself well enough here even if her particular casting didn’t seem all that suited. However the fairly new to the scene Anya Taylor-Joy (who I recognised from The Witch) impressed much more and delivered a nuanced and layered turn as Morgan, keeping this viewer guessing on how things might turn out. The concept although familiar was fairly well delivered and support cast was adequate, bar a scene stealing Paul Giammati (who come on, is always a scene stealer).
As an observation on artificial life forms and with a smattering of action (with some rather impressive fight choreography) and a bit of horror, this made for enjoyable, if lightweight entertainment. It certainly hasn’t as much to say on the subject as similar movies… but still managed to surprise, especially with that ending.
Usually each year there’s one horror movie that gets hyped up by the media as being the scariest movie of the year or words to that effect. This is one such movie, although I usually take such hype with a pinch of salt. After all I’ve been stung in the past (cough … The Blair Witch Project … cough).
Set in New England sometime in the 17th century, a deeply religious family are banished from their plantation after the father’s belief’s don’t concur with that of the town elders, and so they set up home on a small farm complete with a horse, a couple of lambs and a black goat called Phillip. However one day their baby boy vanishes mysteriously following eldest daughter Thomasin playing with him, and superstition and paranoia creep in.
This slow burning, decidedly creepy movie boasts several excellent performances especially from Anya Taylor-Joy as pubescent daughter Thomasin and Ralph Ineson as struggling father William. As crops fail and fears of what lurks in the woods build, I was thoroughly drawn in. It’s a simple tale told with gradual intensity and authenticity. Even the dialogue is accurate, old-English which some viewers (myself included) may take a bit of getting used to (think a less poetic Shakespeare). However as the plot develops it’s clear this is exploring some very dark stuff … freaky religious imagery that seriously disturbs and evil that may or may not be all in the family’s heads. The ending especially is one of the most unnerving conclusions to a movie I’ve seen in a long time and left me shaken.
Writer & Director Robert Eggers has crafted a unique experience of a movie, not really like anything else around right now and fills it with gorgeous photography and foreboding atmosphere. It won’t be for everyone however; it’s dialogue is tough, it’s slow and it’s not really about gore or jump-scares (although there’s a stunning one towards the end). Yet for me, somewhat burnt out on the usual horror subjects like masked killers and haunted houses … this was refreshing and incredibly effective.
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