It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
John Duigan's "Lawn Dogs'' is like a nasty accident at the symbol factory. Pieces are scattered all over the floor as the wounded help each other to the exits. Some of the pieces look well-made and could be recycled. We pick up a few of them and put them together, to see if they'll fit. But they all seem to come from different designs.
The movie isn't clear about what it's trying to say--what it wants us to believe when we leave. It has the form of a message picture, without the message. It takes place in an upscale Kentucky housing development named Camelot Gardens, where the $300,000 homes sit surrounded by big lawns and no trees. It's a gated community; the security guard warns one of the "lawn dogs''--or yard workers--to be out of town by 5 p.m.
In one of the new houses lives 10-year-old Devon (Mischa Barton), who has a scar running down her chest after heart surgery. Her insipid parents are Morton (Christopher McDonald) and Clare (Kathleen Quinlan). Morton plans to run for office. Clare has casual sex with local college kids. And Trent (Sam Rockwell) mows their lawn.
Devon is in revolt, although she doesn't articulate it as interestingly as the heroine of "Welcome To The Dollhouse.'' She wanders beyond the gates, finds Trent's trailer home in the woods, and becomes his friend. There are unrealized undertones of sexuality in her behavior, which the movie never makes overt, except in the tricky scene where she asks Trent to touch her scar. He has a scar, too; here's a new version of you show me yours and I'll show you mine.