Kids end up in un­usual places

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

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

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