Now before anybody does the math here and realizes this was on the weekend I still had my boys, this was not one that I watched with them. We did still “camp out” but I did this one on more of a closed circuit. Lights were out and kids were asleep but I wasn’t going to entertain it on the big TV. I remember sneaking to watch “Misery” as a kid while my mom and aunt tried to watch this movie while my siblings and I were “asleep” on the floor in the same room. There was a lot of slipping one eye open and seeing things I probably shouldn’t have at that age. So I wasn’t going to risk that. I did this one on the phone with headphones. The nice thing is I have a little mount on a bendy frame that goes around my neck so I created a sort of local screen right in front of my face. I’m sure with the lights off and the screen that close to my eyes would be grossly offensive to anyone in the ophthalmological sciences. But I’ve already done it so there’s no use in lamenting my choices after the fact. This was the means by which I facilitated watching this film so we’ll just roll with it at this point.
I was a little on the fence on this one. M. Night Shyamalan has not necessarily been as reliable name as you’d like to think in recent years. He’s had some moments where things were surprisingly good. But he’s made far more truly bad movies than good ones and I don’t believe I’m anywhere close to alone in that assessment. Honestly I had little draw to this film initially and even once it was available on streaming services it did not jump out at me at all. Hence, it was fair game for my unwatched horror movie challenge. I guess more than anything I’m trying to not necessarily paint a negative picture that I walked into this movie with but slightly less than neutral I’d say. I wasn’t anticipating anything that was going to blow me away but I was at least somewhat hopeful that it wouldn’t just be garbage either. Having said that and having watched the film at this point I will say that my outlook on this movie after it was over was that I found it to be surprisingly good. Not great. There’s plenty of things that can and do detract. But if I’m honest and fair, they are not as overwhelming as I might have wanted to anticipate and there were a lot of compelling aspects to how this film was presented that I also did not expect. So it really was a bit of a shock as the credits rolled that I found myself reflecting on how much I did genuinely enjoy the movie overall.
I feel like evaluating a film with the director in mind first is not necessarily a real mainstream sort of approach. Not that being any sort of critic means you have to wax sophisticatedly on all subjects of a film but for many people the content of the movie is the primary focus. The intent of a director or how they shoot the film may come into play in some form or fashion but I don’t necessarily feel like the trademarks of a director are directly linked. I’m talking when people enjoy a scene for how it’s filmed like they enjoy the way a camera pans or zooms or some sort of seemingly extracurricular behavior happening on screen. I do know there were a number of camera savvy moves that I really enjoyed in this film. Some were to keep that PG-13 rating so it was strategic to avoid triggers tipping this film into the R territory based on violence and gore. Secondarily there were just really interesting set ups and camera movements that were tangible enough that they did enhance the story. I enjoy when these sorts of secondary functions are brought to the foreground for discussion because they aren’t typically on tap for most casual moviegoers. When you evaluate the decisions made as to why this scene was shot in this capacity or what ulterior motives a camera’s movement had in aiding the tone or structure of a scene take a movie from just a story in many instances to something a bit more substantial. You’re adding layers to what you’ve seen and allow it to build so much more into how you’ve consumed different pieces of the film.
I will say that my favorite in the cast was Dave Bautista. I’ve seen him in a handful of projects outside of his most notable role as Drax in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. While his comedic efforts were most aptly tapped in those films, Bautista really does have more range than I think a lot of people will probably give him credit for and I think he’s earned more of a true look at his capabilities. I do think he’s a bit underused in this film. I don’t know that Shyamalan fully takes advantage of his charisma in ways that could have pushed the tension a bit more. I think if Bautista had brought a little more of a suppressed rage to his perpetual insistence in his role it would have added an edge to the tension that might have been a bit more mitigating. Instead I think M. Night relied upon solely the questionable severity and accuracy of the apocalyptic foreshadowing that the intruders brought to the story. I do think that the emotion that Rupert Grint. Abby Quinn and Nikki Amuka-Bird rounded out the “horsemen” and their overall approach to the delivery of their dire message really helped swell the enormity of their captive’s choice. Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui made up the unsuspecting family who befell this imposed sacrifice for the good of all mankind. As Daddy Eric, Daddy Andrew and their adopted daughter Wen believed themselves to be taking a much needed vacation, they were unknowingly lying in wait for this impending incarceration by these four strangers. Overall the cast was all really quite capable in their roles and really meshed well together given the hodgepodge nature of their characters. In looking at Bautista as the clear leader of the group I enjoyed that he was played as a gentle giant. He was terribly believable in the opening sequence with young Wen and found a way to ingratiate himself holistically with her quickly and easily. A man of his size approaching a little girl anywhere, let alone in the woods by themselves is enough to tonally set the film on edge immediately. But Bautista not only allayed the young lady’s fears but as the audience, I felt like he was able to bring me in as well. Even knowing his eventual role in the movie, at least to a degree, his presence was calming and pleasant. As his cohorts joined him, it helped shift that message back from calm to a bit more panicked. It’s that little shift in emotion that makes you stumble a bit initially as the observer that I feel like keeps you slightly unsure as the film goes on.
I will say that while it provided breaks in the present timeline and some exposition as well, the flashbacks for Eric and Andrew seemed unhelpful in my estimation. There seemed to want to be this deliberately antagonistic tone towards the fact that they were a same sex couple that seemed out of place in 2023. I don’t know if the book which this is based on was older or perhaps dealt with these themes in a different capacity, but this idea that a little girl with two daddies is a taboo in this day and age is a bit dated and really unrealistic. There are a few times it seems that the direction of the movie attempts to use this but it does so haphazardly like he didn’t really want to commit to it as a true intonation. I don’t know if because it felt shoddy that it was intended to be some sort of red herring but it felt disjointed to take the viewer out of the tension of the present situation and divert our focus by showing us vignettes of Eric and Andrew in stages of becoming a family with Wen. It’s not something I delved into much further than it’s topical application. Andrew deflects a handful of times as the motivation for their “attack” being motivated by hatred and bigotry for their lifestyle. Even when explicitly instructed that the intruders had no idea who would be at the cabin and even went to sizable lengths to display their own tolerance, it seemed to be a well that was revisited surprisingly. I think if there had been some other aspect of the story that balanced out the progression of the four outsider’s mission to persuade one of the family’s sacrifice it might have been a more convincing story. I know it’s based on a book so the leeway to stray might not have been much but if we are going for back story, it might have been nice to get some of the captors instead of the captives. But at the same time, I do have an appreciation for the fact that we are simply told bits and pieces of their four stories instead of shown, outside of O’Bannon of course. That seemed to only add to the confusion as he clearly had a direct connection to the couple so it did seem less random. Could be that this was meant to add questionability to their claims of impending Armageddon by implying maybe the other three had a more direct connection we just didn’t know. Whatever the motivation, I think I can reasonably assign it to somewhat of a smoke screen as misdirection played a big part in the movie though I don’t think it hit that sleight of hand as deftly as intended. I think confusion ensued but not because it was directed that way, it was just confusing in nature.
Ultimately I did enjoy the misdirection that was intentional. In the make up of the story, the viewer is really challenged to determine who to side with in the end. Are you truly supposed to believe Bautista and his fellow agitators as they are attempting to stave off a global cataclysm or is their message erroneous and cool, calm, collected logic and survival are necessary to make it out alive in the end. It’s that little bit of ambiguity that seems inherent in the development of the story that makes an outcome unclear. What I did like about this was I never felt myself necessarily cloying towards that Shyamalan twist. I was attempting to figure out something but it was the mystery placed in front of me. I wasn’t trying to work out the hook at the end. I was simply consuming the movie as it unfolded the way he intended me to do. That was much appreciated. I know in many of his previous films I felt that tug early on in the movie to try and decipher what the eventual twist would be so I was fixated on that rather than simply paying attention to what was unfolding in front of me at the time. I don’t know if he’s cleansed his palate of that behavior or if I’ve just been out of his orbit long enough to not count on it anymore. Whatever the case was, I did feel like the unfolding of this story was done so mostly well. I don’t have too many other complaints outside of the flashbacks feeling wonky and unnecessary. I know we needed a secondary story line to balance out what was happening in front of us and the decision was made to be flashbacks. It just didn’t aid in making the movie better so it did feel like more of a detriment.
I’m certainly not going to give away any more than I hopefully haven’t already. I did enjoy the film and it moves smoothly. The pacing is pretty good and doesn’t seem to hit any real significant lulls. The story is rather compelling and it is acted well. As the Monday morning quarterback it’s easy to pitch all these what ifs that I think I could have done better or would have changed to do this or that. And while I do see room for certain improvements here and there, I feel like this movie is one of the more solid things that Shyamalan has put together since Split. I liked Glass. It was good. I think it could have been a lot better. But this film does feel at least a little bit more like some of his early works that really put him on the map. Even seeing his cameo in the informercial in the movie was a fun experience. Overall I think this movie earns every bit of a 6/10. I know it seems like I keep things pretty close to a particular mark. But this movie really is on the high end of a middle of the pack kind of flick. It does just enough things to be good without really crossing over into a great movie. But it’s that effort that it gives that clearly keeps it from fading into something far less enjoyable like some of his other films like “The Visit” which I thought was dreadful. Outside of an obnoxious tween getting a face full of crazy grandpa’s diaper, there was little to redeem in that movie. This production definitely feels like a much more worthwhile watch. Save for a few relatively minor pitfalls this movie kept in it’s back pocket, I found it to be a good movie overall. Not one I have to rush out and get so it’s on the wall with the others but definitely a new movie that I enjoyed. It was well made and the story was pretty good. I would have loved to see Bautista shine just a little more than he did but I hang the responsibility for that on Shyamalan for poor direction instead of Dave’s lack of ability. It doesn’t ruin the film but it’s a solid criticism regardless. But I think that will just about wrap that one up for me. This one is streaming right now on Amazon Prime Video and I would definitely give it an endorsement for a watch. It may or may not hold up to subsequent viewings but I can categorically say that you’re good for a first viewing no problem. And on that note I’d say we cue the music. Until we meet again, I’ll catch you on the flip side.