I caught this on the telly the other night. I didn’t like it. What had all the makings of a potentially good movie quickly descended into a trite and ultimately pointless experience. We all know that M. Night (The Sixth Sense (1999)) Shyamalan has his off days as a director (The Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008)) but this really did suck something fierce in the last 20 minutes or so. Be aware that there are spoilers throughout this review. It seems only fair to let you know, but actually I don’t believe I could spoil it any more than Mr Shyamalan has managed himself.
It actually starts very well. The tension and expectation is built really quite competently, the characters are roughly drawn but mostly believable and it has all the makings of a good creepy hour or two of viewing. The problem is that it lets itself down by being a load of old crap at the end. Stop me if I’m getting too technical for you, won’t you? I’ve already worked out why Mel Gibson wanted to be in it, as he’s become the kind of establishment whore who will use any vehicle to spread his message of the love of a benevolent god (unless you’re Jewish, apparently) – but what the hell was Joaquin Phoenix thinking of? The guy’s my absolute hero after seeing him in Walk the Line (2005) and a damn fine actor to boot. He must have seen the number of zeroes on the cheque they waved at him and thought “what the hell?”
Still with me? OK. Ex-reverend Graham Hess (Gibson) has recently lost his wife in a rather unpleasant car accident involving her and the local vet. He made it to the crash scene and saw his wife die. He is an ex-reverend because he loses his faith in god at this point. His brother Merrill (Phoenix) moves into the farmstead to help look after Graham and his two kids, Bo and Morgan (a very cute Abigail Breslin and a very-like-his-brother Rory Culkin). Things are afoot, however. The family dogs begin to act strangely (it’s always the dogs) and mysterious crop circles are found in their corn fields. Was it a simple prank by local youths, or some sinister guidance mechanism by alien beings surveying the area for a future invasionary force? I guarantee, by the end of the film, you won’t care.
I may as well let you into the big secret – it’s aliens. Gasp. This is the point where the film becomes slightly silly (as opposed the the third act, when it is just cloying and stupid). The classic mistake in any suspense movie is to reveal too much at a time. A bit like a stripper only wearing a boiler suit, only probably not as much fun. Once we have been treated to the view of a very generic-looking alien, the gig’s up. Act two is a kind of War of the Worlds style ‘defend the family from the invaders’ kind of deal. They even hide in the coal cellar – how original. OK, I’m being a bit harsh. Some of the set pieces and the mock news coverage are done well enough, but can ultimately do little to offset the disgrace that is the third reel.
I have three massive problems with the end of the movie:
(i) It’s basically an advert for going to church. If that’s your bag, then fine – I’m not going to knock you for it. I do object, however, to having my Saturday evening hijacked by people telling me how great their brand of religion is though. There are plenty of channels on my satellite box for that sort of thing. All through the film Gibson’s character professes to have lost his faith. I spent most of the film guessing he’d get it back in the end. And what do you know? I was right. Yay me.
(ii) The amount of ‘clues’ given as to how the film is going to end was, at best, excessive. Done correctly, foreshadowing (as it’s called in the biz) can be used to excellent effect. This was less foreshadowing and more ‘shoehorning’ the various component parts of the finale. Graham’s wife’s last words, Merrill’s appalling strike-out rating in baseball, Morgan’s asthma – the list just goes on and on. It’s almost as if Shyamalan believes his audience to be a pack of thickos who get distracted easily by shiny objects and such like. Thanks, M. Night, but we do get the point.
(iii) Last, but by no means least, the aliens can be killed by…wait for it…water. Really? Fantastic. An entire race of alien beings sophisticated enough to travel the void of space in search of life forms to harvest can be wiped out with a garden sprinkler. Seriously, you’d think that they’d be avoiding an ocean planet whose mammalian population consists of around 60 per cent water like Gibson would avoid a Bar Mitzvah. This has got to be the most ill-conceived and just generally crappy ‘twist’ in the history of cinema. I don’t think much of a terrifying alien race who could be killed by the occupants of my local bar at chucking-out time. Ready boys? Tackle out…aim…fire!
I think I was badly let down because it showed real promise, but just turned into a fiasco. Sorry, but all the signs point to disappointment.