Plot: A single mother allows her estranged parents to host her two children for a week. Don’t ever leave your room after 9:30p.m.!
Cast/Crew: Written & Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Wind scene in The Happening). Starring Olivia DeJonge (15 y.o. Becca), Ed Oxenbould (13 y.o. Tyler), Deanna Dunagan & Peter McRobbie as the grandparents, and Kathryn Hahn as the mother.
Thoughts on the film:
• It’s a simple and effective premise. Although technically a “found footage” film, it’s more like a making-of an impromptu documentary – most of the film is from these handheld cameras, whilst others are standard film setups. The storyline reason that both children have cameras is that Becca is an aspiring filmmaker, and since her mother and her parents are estranged, they want to document the visit (and hopefully get mom ‘the elixir’/catharsis/closure).
• This feels like people responded to the crazy old lady (Mrs. Jones) in The Happening, so Shyamalan thought “why not make a film about old people, who are scary in horror films?” And that’s what he did! And it’s effective – especially Nana – from vomiting while sleep-walking to chasing the children underneath the crawlspace, it’s successfully creepy.
• The movie follows a Paranormal Activity style progression of weird things happening at night, and creeping into the day, building until the big finish. Straight out of that franchise, the kids set up a static camera in the sitting room to see what goes on at night, and review it the next day.
• Why can’t they call for help when things get screwy, you ask? There is no reception out in the countryside, the mom is on a cruise with her new boyfriend (which her kids paid for, she’s not negligent!) and also they skype her, who reassures them that screwy things are normal, they’re just old!
• The child protagonists have good chemistry; the more introspective intellectual, condescending but loving older sister, and the fun-loving, rapping, germophobe little brother. Shyamalan did a very job with making the children likable – Tyler aka ‘T-Diamond Stylus’ having some funny jokes and reactions, with Becca usually playing the straight man to bounce off, when she’s not giving Tyler on-the-fly notes to improve cinematography (which is also funny). They both blame themselves for their dad leaving and have developed phobias (looking into the mirror, and germs for Becca & Tyler respectively)
• Maybe because of what you’d expect with found footage films, or that children are making a documentary, but in that realm it’s shot quite nicely; the image is vivid, bright and colourful.
• The oddness is initially explained as Pop Pop tells the kids that nana has Sundown syndrome, which is a real thing that ~20% of Alzheimer’s patients can get; where they become anxious, irritable and confused, fading light being the trigger.
• There is a big revelation, and the explanation for the crazy happenings makes complete sense of everything we’ve seen beforehand; accounting for the actions of the grandparents, and explaining the loose plot threads beforehand (spilling something on the laptop’s camera, visitors coming over showing concern, disposal of diapers etc) Well done sir. They also tie up/come full circle with the childrens’ phobias.
• You get the trademark ‘wtf was that’ crazy person moments, with the Train Conductor and the grandmother bearing some arse cheek after leaving the crawlspace.
• Nana has a story about creatures in the water from another planet – which is the plot of Lady in the Water — having to watch that would be truly horrifying!
• Impressively shot for $5million and brought in $97m worldwide.
• I’m no tomb raider but I bet nana was gorgeous back in the 60s!
• The only real negative is that in pursuit of making scenes as interesting as possible, (downtime is spent with Tyler goofing around), the tone is very inconsistent – there’s even a fun scene after the big finale. Shyamalan said he originally make a comedic cut, then a very serious cut, and this final cut as a half-way point, which is exactly what it feels like.
• Quick question: The kids skype their mom. So there’s no cellphone reception but there’s broadband? That’s bollocks! Listen hey that’s nitpicking.
Tyler: Jesus Becca, I’m blind.
Creepy nana: Would you mind getting inside the oven to clean it? (I loved the ‘get into the oven’ tease; like something out of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale)
Tyler using singers names instead of swearing. Agh! Shania!
Being creeped out by nana and going to find Pop Pop, who was ‘cleaning’ his gun. Terrifying!
Overall: Decent horror film here, much better than expected from Shyamalan. There’s nothing ground-breaking or that memorable (apart from Tyler overcoming his germ phobia!) but despite a bipolar tone, it’s an easy watch.