A Shyamalan comeback, sci-fi confusion, and no laughs from Woody
* The Visit (15A, 94mins), 4 stars
* Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (15A, 131mins),
* Irrational Man (15A, 95mins), 2 stars
It is, to be kind, a good decade since M Night Shyamalan made even a half-decent film, but out of nowhere comes The Visit, a refreshingly bizarre and off-kilter production that feels like the work of a talented beginner. I mean that in a good sense, because in making it Shyamalan seems to have rediscovered his enthusiasm for film-making.
A lo-fi thriller in which moments of tension and horror are constantly undercut by glib humour, The Visit stars Kathryn Hahn as Paula Jamison, a single mom who reluctantly allows her teenage children to go on a visit to her estranged parents. Rebecca (Olivia de Jonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have never met their grandparents, but an olive branch has been extended, and Rebecca and Tyler board a train to the countryside not knowing what to expect.
They're pleasantly surprised by John (Peter McRobbie) and Doris (Deanna Dunagan), a sunny and wholesome-looking old couple. Doris likes to bake, John is a hale outdoors-man, and they both agree to take part in an amateur documentary Rebecca is making for her mother, and which forms the framework of the film.
But as their visit progresses, something seems amiss. Doris prowls the house by night in a trance, John keeps disappearing into the shed on mysterious errands, and Rebecca slowly begins to suspect they may be in danger.
As I mentioned earlier, the film's mounting tension is regularly subverted by witty asides, to the extent that The Visit almost seems like a parody of your average horror film. It's terrific fun, very nicely directed, and the acting is uniformly excellent.
Cheaper than The Hunger Games, less interesting than Divergent, Wes Ball's 2013 movie The Maze Runner was perhaps the most forgettable of the recent rash of dystopian sci-fi film adaptations. But it did just fine at the box office, so here we go again with this hefty, slow-moving sequel. In film one a group of handsome juveniles found themselves trapped in a verdant valley surrounded by 100-ft-high walls. When they eventually escaped, they discovered that they were survivors of a devastating global pandemic.
A witchy doctor called Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) has been experimenting on them, and in The Scorch Trials they give her the slip, escaping from a medical facility and striking out across a devastated desert landscape populated by flesh-eating zombies. Solidly made and tolerable to look at, The Scorch Trials foggy plotting left me more confused at the end than I had been at the start, and it plods along forgettably for well over two hours.
Woody Allen's 46th feature film as director (by my count) stars Joaquin Phoenix as a self-loathing misanthrope who causes chaos when he comes to lecture at a sleepy New England college.
Abe Lucas is your typical Allen protagonist, a world-weary intellectual who quotes Kierkegaard like he's going out of fashion and spends most of his free time pondering the pointlessness of existence. A nice hobby, but things look up when Abe becomes close to a besotted young student called Jill (Emma Stone).
While they're flirting over diner, they overhear the tragic case of an abandoned mother who is about to have her children removed from her by a corrupt judge. Abe, who drinks a lot, then has a brainstorm and decides to kill the judge.
Laden down with all the usual references to Russian literature and undergraduate philosophy, Irrational Man feels like a weary addition to the Allen archives.
The script is so clumsy and full of exposition that it feels like a rushed first draft, and with no humour to lighten the story, the film's rickety structure is laid bare.
Only the excellent Emma Stone emerges with any credit: then again, she always does.
A Walk in the Woods (Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson); Everest (Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal); Horse Money (Tito Furtado).