Archives for July 2021

A new film from M Night Shyamalan, the horror, the horror

Old, 2021.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the cinema, Be afraid, be very afraid… Are these the 7 most terrifying words in modern cinema; a new film from M Night Shyamalan?

Shyamalan burst on to the scene with his third feature, The Sixth Sense, which he wrote and directed in 1999 at the tender age of 29. I remember watching that film and thinking, what on earth is all the fuss about? But then it delivers its ending, and I thought, in fairness, that was genuinely surprising.

The Sixth Sense, 1999.

So I sat down to watch his next film, Unbreakable, from 2000, in a mood of quiet excitement. And, like the previous film, it ambles along in a perfectly inoffensive manner for four fifths of its duration, before delivering what was similarly intended to be a killer blow. But blow alas is the appropriate term. Instead of explain all that had gone on before, all the ending did was to undermine and cheapen it.

Next up was Signs, a sub-Spielbergian tale of awe and wonder which was so conventional, conservative, ham-fisted and ill-conceived it was hard to know what to think. Worse, that cute cameo he’s always rewarded himself with was here allowed to morph into a fully-fledged speaking part. And not a small one at that. What on earth were we to make of him? 

The Village, 2004.

But that was swiftly cleared up by the two films that came next. The Village, from 2004, is not so much an homage to The Crucible as it is a violent assault on it. On to its basic backdrop Shyamalan inserts a series of pedestrian twists that are as drearily predictable as they are improbable. And for the first time, we get a clear picture as to quite how poor a screenwriter he is. 

But it’s with his next film, Lady in the Water, from 2006, that any ambiguity as to the man’s gifts was cleared up once and for all. This was so badly written that it went on an almost unique journey from mesmerically bad, to so-bad-it’s-good, and on beyond to so irredeemably bad that it became literally unwatchable. 

I lasted for the first 25 minutes or so, until it was revealed that the person who was, wait for it, going to save humanity, was in fact…  a writer! And that that writer was played by none other than… Our very own writer director himself. Once I’d recovered from a protracted fit of giggling, I’m afraid I got up and left. 

Lady in the Water, 2006.

But there is one invaluable service that that film serves. For any writer out there convinced that what they’re working on is beneath worthless, all they need do is watch Lady in the Water, and they’ll immediately feel better about themselves. It’s the perfect tonic.

So I’ve not seen his latest magnum opus, Old. But I can’t wait. By all accounts, it’s another gem from the pen of every writer’s very best friend. I’m saving it up for a special occasion. 

In the meantime, here’s the trailer for Old.

And here’s the trailer for Lady in the Water.

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‘The Alienist’, Hurray for Hollywood! (it’s a living)

The Alienist.

Despite being set in New York at the turn of the 20th century and being filmed in Budapest, The Alienist boasts a plethora of Irish talent. Amongst the cast we find David Wilmot, Michael McElhatton, Peter Coonan, Gavin O’Connor, Sean McGinley, Maurice Byrne and Paul Reid. The principle directors of photography are Cathal Watters and PJ Dillon, Dermot Diskin edits and Philip Murphy is on set décor. 

Much of that is thanks to the arrival of Stuart Carolan and David Caffrey. Carolan was brought in as show runner in 2020 for season 2, and asked Caffrey to direct many of those season 2 episodes for him. 

Getting work in Ireland on film and television is, to put it mildly, a precarious pursuit. One producer once summed it up memorably to me when he said, striving to get a project off the ground in Ireland was like “trying to fuck smoke”. 

Love/Hate. Here’s looking at you kids.

And you learn very early on that what semblance of stability there exists is to be found in television. And, very quickly, what you really hope for are the regular payments that a series can provide you with. 

You don’t just get paid for a number of episodes. Thanks to the vigour of the muscular unions, you also have to get paid out for any possible repeat screenings, often in multiple territories and on different platforms.

All of which means that what you secretly dream of more than anything else is getting that call up for a Hollywood series. So it’s hardly surprising that Carolan should have leapt at the chance to join the Alienist as show runner, albeit for season 2. 

After all, with around $5 million per episode, he had considerably more money for each individual episode than he did for an entire season of Love/Hate, an episode of which was said to have cost around €600,000. 

Heaven’s Gate, Lord above.

Just to put all this in perspective. Every single one of the cast and crew would have greeted those five seasons of Love/Hate, with  €600,000 an episode(!), as all of their Christmases coming at once. 

The fact that, once it got over its teething problems in season 1, Love/Hate then evolved into one of the most exciting and dramatically taut series ever broadcast on Irish television was very much but an added bonus.

So the prospect of joining a bona fide $5m an episode, prime time Hollywood drama series – $5m an episode! – would, literally, have been a dream come true for cast and crew alike. And it’s genuinely thrilling to see so many seriously gifted actors and film makers involved in such an opulent affair. The end product is very much neither here nor there.

And, in fairness, season 2 of the Alienist is no worse than season 1 was. The opening episode of that first season looked like a very early draft of the first assignment of a 1st year film student after spending his very first weekend watching nothing but Michael Cimino films. Well, specifically, a Cimino film – see my earlier review of Heaven’s Gate here.

It’s all so busy. There’s stuff everywhere, And you keep waiting for it to take that final step from just plain bad to so-bad-it’s-good. But, for whatever alchemical reason, it somehow fails to ever make that triumphant transition from pants to kitsch and camp.

Never mind. It’s fantastic to see so many talented individuals so gainfully employed, and I very much hope that season 3 gets given the green light. After which, I’d love to then see them all get their teeth into something with a little bit more bite.

You can see the trailer for season 2 of The Alienist here.

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