M. Night Shyamalan follows up his (modest) comeback hit The Visit with another back-to-form psychological/paranormal thriller which really only worked because of the astounding, chameleonic acting showcased by James McAvoy. The epilogue was a pleasant surprise and I am so glad I was not spoilt on it at all.
Shyamalan's writing and directing still lacked subtlety - also evident by the promo posters for the movie - and nothing that happened throughout the film was really surprising. On one hand, that showed incredible restrain by Shyamalan, but yet it does not make for an interesting narrative.
Similarly, all the other characters, besides McAvoy and the lead girl (Anya Taylor-Joy). were so thinly written that it was hard to root for them. As much as Shyamalan tried to upturn the conventional trope of girl(s)-abducted-and-so-be-useless, it came out more mocking than smart.
Furthermore, even with Taylor-Joy's character, she was so blandly written that it made it very hard to root for any of the protagonist. Her backstory was so blatantly just an excuse to justify her narrative that the payoff at the end was not earned. The fact that Shyamalan committed the cinema sin of show and tell, did nothing to help her case. Taylor-Joy was a fresh revelation in The Witch but her subsequent screen choices showed she lacked guidance and may be stuck in a genre rut.
Ultimately, if it was not for McAvoy, the film would have been a lot more unbearable.
McAvoy was brilliant. He truly showed us what a great actor he has always been from the times of The Last King of Scotland to Atonement and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby; just slightly lost now in the X-Men Universe. The shift in character as the camera stayed on him was exciting and thrilling to watch. It kept you guessing who is he now?
A pity the rest of the cast was not up to par. But maybe now, with two back-to-back hits, Shyamalan can finally go back to his roots and cast more actors of McAvoy's calibre. Although if anything was to follow-up next, we might in for a treat to the final instalment of his most underrated success Unbreakable. Bruce, Sam and James...that I will be there.
On a side note: it was a great casting coup to cast Professor X as a character that bears such similarity to his literary son, Legion.