Preposterous in all of the best ways, and some of the worst, the latest film from once-overhyped, now underrated auteur M. Night Shyamalan is as confounding as any film Hollywood is likely to produce this year. Ostensibly a horror film of the ‘girls trapped in a basement by a madman’ subgenre, like last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, it somehow ends up being a rape-revenge superhero movie, like a DC Comics version of Elle. With a barely taped together plot, a streak of goofy black comedy and a cheap, exploitative perspective on real-life trauma, the movie is clearly the work of some kind of a lunatic. But what a lunatic!
After a decade or so of wandering in the big-budget wilderness, a victim as much of hype as hubris, M. Night Shyamalan has made perhaps his most perfect film, or at least his best film since the 1999-2002 run that made him a household name. Ingeniously adapting to the budgetary and compositional constraints of the found-footage horror genre, turning an archetypally generic story into a jump scare machine both hilarious and deeply sad. Two kids, Becca age 15, an aspiring filmmaker, and Tyler age 13, an aspiring rapper, leave home to visit their grandparents for the first time. Their mother (the ubiquitous but nevertheless always great Kathryn Hahn) ran away from home at age 19 and hasn’t spoken to her parents since. But the kids being older now, a rapprochement is in order. The kids head to the country via Amtrak while mom goes on a cruise with her boyfriend. Becca has a dual purpose: she’s also going to make a film about the trip and her family, and this film in progress is the movie we’re watching.