While at heart a Pinkett-Smith family bonding project, the kind of sci-fi play therapy Big Willie and son would get up to if they had a holodeck, the dreary After Earth still bears the stamp of authorship of M. Night Shyamalan, its director. There's the handsome scenecraft, those smartly constructed revelations and jump scares, often sprung on you during a shot that seems to be about something else. (Recall the kitchen drawers and cabinets that suddenly all open in The Sixth Sense-- and recall that young writer-director's promise.) There’s that glum high seriousness and that insistence upon lit-class symbolism, no matter how risible. And there's Shyamalan's principled refusal to subordinate his ideas to narrative logic. Just minutes after being told that the planet he's crashed-landed on undergoes a fatal hard-freeze every single night, the hero leaps into a river-- the water's not bad. The kid (Jaden Smith) has to dash through some 100 kilometers of verdant Mystery Planet, while dad—stern, joyless, the Fresh Prince now a dour warrior king—grumbles junk cribbed from acting classes, Dianetics, and Tom Cruise's scenes in Magnolia: "Root yourself in this moment now. Stop, smell. What do you feel?" Jaden might face online wrath for his performance especially thanks to the pinched-up accent he's forced to adopt. He's a kid asked to do the extraordinary: compel us as he pretends to do ridiculous bullshit. As Will Smith coldly instructs him to feel, to root in this moment now, to master his own creation, I felt the purest horror I ever have at a Shyamalan film: What if this is what Jaden Smith’s life is actually like?
M. Night ShyamalanWill Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Isabella Kravits, Lincoln Lewis, Sacha Dhawan, Chris Geere, Isabelle Fuhrman, Kristofer Hivju, David DenmanWill Smith, Gary Whitta, M. Night ShyamalanCaleeb Pinkett, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, James Lassiter, M. Night ShyamalanSony Pictures