This film is a return to the thing that made M. Night Shyamalan famous: a great story told simply. Doing a micro budget film forces you to focus on only the essentials in the story. Mr. Shyamalan has some good stories. I learned a while back that when going to one of his films don’t try and guess where the story is going; just sit back and enjoy it as it unfolds. It’s a bit like going to see a magician and working out how the tricks are done when you watching the show. You miss the magic. Maybe I’m not the best person to review this film, I already have a high opinion of his work so yeah I am going to love it. It does nothing but make me enjoy his creativity more.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) spend a week with their estranged grandparents. Becca is a budding filmmaker and wants to document the trip. This leads us down a path that I have never cared for as a device. The main characters are shooting the footage. It’s not really a found footage per se but it’s chocked full of oddly staged scenes and shaky camera shots. Using these devices, in my opinion, on a big budget film is a lazy story-telling tool. But on a micro budget, it’s understandable.
Beyond that, what really attracted me to the story is that the characters are genuine. The family is going through a separation and the kids are going away to give mom some time with the new man in her life. The kids have some time to examine the effects of their parents break-up, and we can see them working out their issues.
The pacing is very deliberate. Rising tension is relived by a touch of humor and the simple explanation that what they saw is very normal if you look at it from a certain point of view. This is another reason to enjoy this film with its understanding of human nature to accept reasonable explanations for things because the alternative would be too horrifying. Yet the horrifying is sitting right there waiting for you to recognize what you have been seeing all along. As it comes more and more into focus, the feeling is akin to that of the slow rise up the hill on a roller coaster. Click,click, click,click as you go up and crest the hill you can see the drop off and do nothing but go with it and hope that you survive out the other end.
I loved the symbolism in the film. It may be heavy handed but still done well. The characters surviving their ordeal and walking out into the rain as a baptism to their new lives touches the right notes. Unlike other films it doesn’t make victims of its characters who survive only to become creatures themselves or are horribly scarred for the rest of their lives.
The dialog has the flavor and touches of humor that have been missing from some of his previous work. You can tell that he has the story clearly in his mind and that translates to the screen perfectly. This has the same feel as the Sixth Sense. They both have similar themes: kids are stronger than we give them credit for and life can sometimes be scary but we get through it.