It is fair to say, at this point in Shyamalan’s filmmaking career that the cons have certainly outweighed the pros. The director has gone from once being hailed by critics as the next Spielberg to making cinematic poison such as the atrocious adaptation of The Last Airbender, to sci-fi stinker After Earth. He was clearly out of his comfort zone by tackling such large projects with monstrous budgets and he was in dire need of a comeback. Fans prayers were answered in 2015 with the release of Shyamalan’s attempt at a found footage flick The Visit, which a majority of critics hailed as his long overdue return to form. For me personally, I wasn’t a fan of The Visit but it certainly was a lot more promising than anything Shyamalan had made in the last decade. That being said, Shyamalan has finally won me over with his latest release by crafting his best film since Signs.
The story focuses on three teenage girls Claire (Richardson), Marcia (Sula) and Casey (Joy) who are suddenly abducted and held at ransom by the disturbing ‘Dennis’ (McEvoy). A very standard horror plot upon first glance, but both the audience and the girls suddenly realise that there is something far more sinister afoot as ‘Dennis’ is merely one of 23 personalities contained within Kevin and the girls then encounter these other personalities throughout the film. These range from a gay fashion designer ‘Barry’, a dominating matriarch ‘Patricia’ to an intimidating nine year old ‘Hedwig’ who out of all the other personalities, is the instant scene stealer.
A role like this provides the actor with an extraordinary amount of freedom to do what they want with all of these so called ‘personalities’ and McEvoy delivers a powerhouse performance as Kevin. He manages to make the audience feel sorry for this troubled individual while also terrified as he contemplates his next move. The same can be said for Anya-Taylor Joy’s Casey, who out of the other two teenage girls, is allowed more of a backstory which is both heartfelt and equally as disturbing as Kevin’s. She too gives a magnificent performance along with Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher, a psychologist who is determined to learn more about Kevin’s illness and the scenes with her and McEvoy together are wonderfully executed.
As for the other two teenage girls, their performances failed to make an impact and were not up to par with Joy’s, particularly Richardson who is given some very clunky dialogue to work with. Like a good majority of Shyamalan’s films, there is a reliance on lecturing the audience with some scenes exposition and characters delivering certain lines in a very automated and monotone manner.
However, unlike other Shyamalan features, there is an effective balance of horror and humour present as he knows exactly when to make the audience laugh; with McEvoy acting like an irritating child in a dance sequence, it is almost too difficult not to laugh and be disturbed when another personality quickly takes control of Kevin. Most of Shyamalan’s fans will of course be expecting the big twist in the film’s concluding moments. Without giving too much away, there is a twist present here and it will of course please the fans but audiences who are unfamiliar with his work may feel a little excluded and unsure as to what they have just witnessed.
But aside from a few weak performances and clunky dialogue, the film features a masterclass performance from McEvoy and Joy and an effective mix of tension filled scenes and comedic moments. If Shyamalan sticks to these kind of films, he will definitely have proven to those who have doubted him in the past that he has made a comeback and he is here to stay. Just don’t make a sequel to The Last Airbender. Please. Don’t. Sean Moriarty
Director: M. Night Shyamalan