M. Night Shyamalan has finally made another film worth visiting
Review by Daniel Rester
M. Night Shyamalan is back in horror-thriller mode with The Visit, a small-budget found footage film that some are calling a return to form for the filmmaker. I don’t know if I would go that far, as his early triumphs The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), and Signs (2002) are far superior to The Visit. However, the film is a step in the right direction, with Shyamalan finally delivering the goods again after dropping the ball a few times with pictures like The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010).
The Visit finds a young, aspiring documentarian named Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her little brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), traveling to meet their grandparents for the first time. Their mom (Kathryn Hahn) – who has some past issues with her parents – dumps the kids on them when she decides to go on a trip with her boyfriend. But Becca and Tyler soon find that Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) may be hiding some secrets.
Shyamalan shows a certain playfulness as a writer-director with The Visit that is both engaging and fun for the right audience. Those who are not into offbeat horror films should probably stay clear of the film, but those who are curious will likely be surprisingly rewarded. I was. I didn’t expect this strange little movie to win me over with its blending of comedy and thrills, but it actually did.
The thrills – and twists – are expected from Shyamalan at this point, but the humor in The Visit was what caught me off guard. Some of the comedic moments are just ridiculous and cringe-worthy, but others are genuinely hilarious. It’s nice to see Shyamalan poking a bit of fun at his material and trying out different things; one ongoing joke involving female pop singers is especially funny.
Shyamalan deals with themes of forgiveness and mental illness in The Visit in ways that are interesting as well. This makes it so the film is trying to balance horror, comedy, and emotion at the same time, which makes it feel tonally unbalanced. However, enough of Shyamalan’s ideas and execution work so that the whole thing doesn’t come apart. On the surface, The Visit can just be seen as a cheap and entertaining found footage film, but I found it to actually be a bit deeper than that when dwelled on.
Another interesting choice Shyamalan makes here is to use barely any music — relying mostly on diegetic sound instead. This actually adds to the tension, and it’s refreshing to take in since so many found footage films have music and jump scare sounds that randomly appear. The purposely hit-and-miss camerawork mixed with the natural noises gives The Visit a similar feel to the earlier found footage films that didn’t rely on too many visual effects.
The cast does a fine job at bringing out the qualities of the characters. DeJonge carries the movie by giving Becca an underlying intelligence and sadness that is relatable, while Oxenbould brings the comic relief often; he mostly hits the right marks but is occasionally annoying (such as when he raps multiple times; no joke). Dunagan and McRobbie sink their teeth into playing the “creepy old people,” and they definitely pull it off. Shyamalan even gets them to somehow make a certain board game seem uncomfortable and scary!
My feelings on The Visit are mixed-to-positive. Some moments in it are just terrible, while some others feel out of place. But Shyamalan and the cast do quite a lot here that is actually effective – and completely off the wall. Hopefully the filmmaker will continue stepping in the right direction and eventually return to his former greatness with future films. It’s nice to see Shyamalan in a positive light again, though I’m not completely convinced yet that he has recovered his exceptional skills that he once had as a storyteller.
My Grade: B (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD, See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language).
Runtime: 1 hour and 34 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: September 11th, 2015.