Kids end up in unusual places
Buy a ticket to any movie these days and chances are an Australian will appear on screen at some point in the proceedings. Well, that’s how it feels at least, and it’s a terrific advertisement for our acting ranks. Take the two new releases under review: M. Night Shyamalan’s low-budget found-footage thriller The Visit and Joe Wright’s $US150 million ($214m) fantasy adventure Pan. Not a lot in common there, aside from their impressive young Australian leads.
In The Visit, it’s 17-year-old Olivia DeJonge (ABC TV’s witness protection drama Hiding) and 14-year-old Ed Oxenbould, a star in the making if ever there was one, who shine as siblings Rebecca and Tyler. She’s a serious aspiring documentary-maker and he’s an easygoing wannabe rapper. That Sydney boy Oxenbould ( Paper Planes) can pull off the rap acts he performs says a lot for his charm and confidence.
When the grandparents they have never seen make contact, Becca and Tyler head to rural Pennsylvania for a week-long visit. Their mum (Kathryn Hahn) is long estranged from her parents but the kids are curious to meet them so she agrees to the trip — and uses the break to take a cruise with her boyfriend.
When Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) meet Becca and Tyler at the train station, the kids seem not to notice that the oldsters could have stepped out of Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic. They all head back to the remote farmhouse and things start to get a little weird. Don’t go into the cellar, the children are warned.
We see Grandma making biscuits and so on, but we also see her, at night, projectile vomiting and, separately, running through the house naked on all fours. We see Pop Pop pooing his pants, which we might put down to an unfortunate accident of old age — until we see what he does with his adult diapers. Though he’s still a strong man, as we see when he wields an axe.
All of this unfolds via Becca’s video camera as she has decided to include the visit in a documentary she is making about her family. Found footage may be a well-worn thriller device by now, but by and large it still works well here.
At one point, the increasingly freaked-out kids reassure each other with words to the effect of: “There’s nothing to be afraid of, they’re just old people.’’ It’s this perceived wisdom Shyamalan cleverly plays with: old people may be weird, but they are harmless, right? Yes, Grandma may chase us through the house screaming like a banshee, or lock us in the oven, but it’s just a game, isn’t it?
I’ll leave you to find out. This being a Shyamalan film there is a twist, of course, and while it’s not at the level of his most famous film, The Sixth Sense, I didn’t see it coming and found it satisfying.
And while there are some genuinely scary moments — I shock-jumped in my seat a couple of times, which doesn’t happen often — there’s also a sense of black comedy, especially in the over-the-top performances of veterans Dunagan and McRobbie. Watch for the Yangtze scene.
Made for just $US10m (it’s returned six times that and counting), The Visit is an effective Friday night fright flick. See it for that reason, but also to enjoy the performances of two talented young Australians.
The young Australian star of Pan, the latest reimagining of JM Barrie’s story of a boy who never grows old, is Brisbane newcomer Levi Miller, who has just turned 13 and who won the role over thousands of hopefuls. He equips himself well, too, bringing a wonder but also a sense of destiny to this not-yet-Peter, and adopting a convincing Cockney accent.
This is a Peter Pan origin story, a prequel of sorts to Barrie’s tale, which had its first incarnation on stage in 1904, but one that launches itself from the dark days of World War II. In a spectacular sequence, Peter and other orphans at the Lambeth Home for Boys survive a German bombing raid only to be kidnapped by pirates and whisked into the skies in a flying galleon. A dogfight with RAF spitfires ensues, one that soars above London and, later, surges through the Thames. The computer-generated action is impressive: my 10-year-old co-viewers momentarily paused in their potato chip consumption.
The captain of the pirate ship is “the original nightmare”, Blackbeard (a marvellous Hugh Jackman). Peter is put to work at the mines of Neverland, digging for fairy dust, which the pirate needs for interesting reasons. Here he meets James Hook (Garret Hedlund channelling Indiana Jones), who still has both his hands and will become Peter’s ally in the adventure to come. So, as we are told at the start, “This isn’t the story you have heard before.’’
Peter and Hook, friends for now, join the princess Tiger Lily (American actress Rooney Mara) and the fairy people in a see-sawing confrontation with Blackbeard and his pirates. For the most part it’s absorbing, with Jackman’s insomniac-eyed, conflicted, volatile Blackbeard a wonder to watch. When he first meets Peter he asks, “Have you come to kill me, Peter?”, and part of him seems to hope the answer is yes. For all its computer wizardry, Pan is an old-fashioned adventure, and that is a compliment.
Peter McRobbie, left, Ed Oxenbould and Deanna Dunagan in a scene from The Visit