Saturday, September 12, 2015

Rapid Reviews: The Visit and 99 Homes

M. Night Shyamalan, the gimmicky filmmaker who once made his mark on the industry with unforgettable works such as The Sixth Sense and Signs, had lost the confidence of many major studios after a decade-long tailspin derailed his once envious career. However, Universal Pictures has handed him another shot at redemption with Shyamalan's latest thriller, The Visit.

After the events of one impactful evening turned into 15 years of silence between Paula (Kathryn Hahn) and her parents, she receives a letter from the elderly couple asking if they can meet their grandchildren, Becca (Olivia Dejonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), for the first time. Despite her reservations, the children push her into saying yes and they embark on their trip across the state while Paula takes a cruise with her new boyfriend. As Becca and Tyler spend a few days trying to get to know their grandparents, the elderly couple's behavior grows increasingly odd and leaves the kids concerned for their well being.

Although The Visit is far from the recurring duds that M Night Shyamalan has released over the past handful of years, the director continues to rely solely on shocking twists to win over an audience. And although Shyamalan may have convinced others that his career is trending back to its old winning ways , I recognize The Visit as the schematic ploy that it truly is. Filmed from the first-person perspective, meant to be a documentary by the eldest grandchild, Becca, this whole fad is as washed up and outdated as Shyamalan's "gotcha" approach. Creepy performances from aged veterans Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are executed brilliantly and clearly the film's driving force. But when you peel away The Visit's flimsy exterior, it represents yet another ineffective and empty entry from Shyamalan.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

After nearly a year-long stint on the festival circuit, Ramin Bahrani's indie drama, 99 Homes, finds a theatrical release on September 25th. With a detailed and sinister examination of the housing market collapse and its immediate aftermath, 99 Homes is an eye opening and powerful piece of filmmaking from Bahrani.

After falling behind on the mortgage payments to his family's home, contractor Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is ordered by a judge to evict his home. Struggling to find work, Nash crosses paths with real estate broker Richard Carver (Michael Shannon) who takes the single father under his wing and shows him the ropes to corrupting the system. Forced to perform the same eviction practices that he once experienced himself, Nash must choose between compromising his morals and providing for his son and mother (Laura Dern).

Despite a shaky first act that feels flooded with unconvincing dialogue and preachy undertones, 99 Homes quickly unravels into a morality tale that works on various levels. Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon give top-flight performances that serve as a backbone to an escalating tale of fraud and misconduct. The film illustrates an earnest, albeit bleak, portrait of the housing market collapse that swept across our country throughout the end of the last decade. The dramatics are genuine and the feature is paced extremely well for a two-hour affair. 99 Homes isn't going to dominate this year's awards season, but it proves to be a worthy fall release that captivates audiences and tells a harsh, but necessary, story.

Stars; 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

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