Faith is difficult to convey in a movie if the viewers themselves have to be persuaded of its power. Normally, the apocalypse is depicted as having a grounding in natural phenomenon—climate change, asteroids, shifting tectonic plates—but when the source is supernatural the audience has to already have some kernel of belief in a higher intelligence to find any sort of value in the story. In M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller, it takes a while for the particulars of the end-of-the-world scenario to sink in, a strategy that is both a function of the story’s suspense and its ability to make us buy it, but if it fails in that endeavor the movie has no meaning, no matter how skillfully Shyamalan charts out the thrills.
For what it’s worth, his characters make the most of his problematic premise. Eric and Andrew (Jonathon Groff, Ben Aldridge) are a couple who, with their adopted daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), repair to a rented cabin in the woods for a relaxing vacation. As soon as they arrive, the cabin is invaded by four individuals armed with makeshift weapons who tie them up. The quartet’s leader, the massive Leonard (Dave Bautista), explains in an extremely gentle manner that they have all experienced “visions” of the end, and have somehow been told to seek out this particular family, which must kill one of its members to appease whatever force is bent on destroying the earth. What’s disconcerting about this home invasion is that the perpetrators are not aggressive, but apologetic and pleading: They believe utterly in their mission and beg the two men to make this ultimate sacrifice, since they have to decide to die themselves. The intruders can’t kill them. Naturally, Eric and Andrew don’t believe it, even after Leonard turns on the TV to show them evidence of plagues and disasters.
Most of the movie is a psychological cat-and-mouse game, with Leonard and his three accomplices—none of whom knew one another prior to their visions—using heightened emotions and their own show of self-sacrifice to make their case for the preservation of humanity, while their two captives resort to logic and then pure rage (Eric at first believes they are homophobic psychopaths) to resist their entreaties. What makes the concept difficult to swallow is its arbitrary nature, as if it were thought up by some evil twelve-year-old and then translated into millennial-speak by a scriptwriter. The development is punctuated by some potent bits of violence and intrigue, but the story’s relentless drive toward a binary conclusion—will the world end or won’t it?—drains it of compelling drama if you don’t buy the faith premise in the first place. Because it’s a Shyamalan production, there is always the possibility of a twist, but by the time such a possibility makes itself clear you may have grown tired of the whole psycho-philosophical exercise.
Opens April 7 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Humax Cinema (03-3462-2539), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
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