Once hailed by Newsweek as “the next Spielberg,” writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has more or less been notable over the past decade only for being the butt of many jokes. After the critical and commercial successes of some of his early films, such as The Sixth Sense and Signs, Shyamalan’s artistic vision has only been on the decline ever since. From 2004’s The Village through 2008’s The Happening, and most notably 2013’s Will Smith/Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth, Shyamalan has had a terribly tough time directing or writing a universally-liked movie. Sadly, though quite unsurprisingly, Shyamalan’s newest endeavor — The Visit — didn’t leave me feeling like he is back to form.
In The Visit, 15-year-old Rebecca and 13-year-old Tyler are siblings who go to see their grandparents while their single mother, Paula, goes on a cruise with her new boyfriend. Rebecca is an aspiring film director and decides she wants to film a documentary chronicling their visit, as it is the first time the siblings have ever met their grandparents.
Years earlier, Paula cursed her parents and eloped with her then-boyfriend (the father of Rebecca and Tyler), and has had no contact with them ever since, hence the fact the kids have never met their own grandparents. When the kids arrive, their grandparents, John and Doris, seem like a sweet old couple like any other cozy set of lovable grandparents. It doesn’t take long before “cozy” turns to creepy, however.
The characters in this movie really hold it back. Though she is the lead character, Rebecca is almost entirely forgettable outside of the fact that she wants to make movies. The only other character trait she has is that she can’t look at herself in the mirror, though it’s never really explained why and only comes up a handful of times, without any payoff either.
Her younger brother Tyler fairs a bit better, simply because he’s at least got a personality (although it is very easily unlikable). Tyler is an aspiring rapper, and throughout the movie he will freestyle in scenes that go on for far too long. I know that these parts are supposed to be lighthearted and funny, but I found that I got more amusement out of them by thinking about M. Night Shyamalan working late into the night in order to write the terrible lyrics that Tyler spouts.
Just as with Rebecca’s fear of mirrors, Tyler has the odd trait of being a germaphobe, which comes up so little in the movie that I’m unsure why it’s even a plot point in the first place. I will say that although the characters leave much to be desired, the acting across the board is pretty solid, even from the children.
The premise of The Visit is admittedly fairly good, and with a better director/writer, this movie could have been extremely creepy and fun. What we get with M. Night Shyamlan’s vision, however, is a muddled mix of “comedy” and “horror.” I use quotations there, since I found many of the bits that were supposed to be terrifying to actually be funny, while I found that most of the supposed comedic bits were horrific. A lot of critics have cited the movie’s sense of black humor, but while I did laugh quite a bit throughout the movie, I don’t believe that this was Shyamalan’s intention. I got a lot of fun out of the movie due to the roaring crowd I saw it with. I must say that if I were watching this movie alone, I wouldn’t have laughed much at all, even at the scenes that are meant to be more comedic.
The true horror of this movie is that it’s not really scary at all. The Visit is yet another entry in the stale genre of found footage movies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I have seen a good number of films that use this conceit to their advantage. Here it just holds the film back. In moments meant to be tense and eerie, the handheld camerawork doesn’t help to heighten the creep-factor and will actually distract from the events onscreen. In moments of action, as well, the shaky camera-work makes it somewhat hard to even follow what’s happening on-screen, like in a scene that sees the kids being chased in the cramped crawlspace underneath the house. Then there’s my own nit-picky problem that lies within most found footage movies, which is that it doesn’t even make sense for Rebecca to constantly be rolling. Even if her intent is to film a documentary, much of the time that she’s shooting is normal, everyday interactions; not something you’d normally use in the context of a documentary.
There’s plenty of opportunities for jump scares to get a rise from you in this movie, but they’re so predictable that by the time the build-up is done and the jump scare finally occurs, you’ve already readied yourself to the point that you no longer jump. Even more predictable is the major twist of the film. Shyamalan is known for his twists, so of course there’s one in The Visit, but it’s such a simple twist that I guessed it within fifteen minutes of the film’s opening.
Barring all that, I know that there’s an atmosphere here that Shyamalan attempts to build to make the events happening on screen seem creepy. However, it all just comes across as really silly. Also, I just want to point out Shyamalan’s odd fetishism of granny-ass, because we are shown the grandmother’s bare butt multiple times. It could be argued that that’s these are the scariest part of the entire film.
The Visit is extremely disappointing, and yet at the same time, I probably shouldn’t have expected more with Shyamalan’s track record of late. The early positive reviews really had me quite excited to see this one, but I cannot understand how this film has had such a great reception. Its near $60 million domestic earnings have blown the film’s $5 million budget out of the water, so it will be no twist when Shyamalan returns in a couple years with something new. I for one cannot say I’ll be looking forward to seeing what he has to offer. Maybe the twist of his next movie will be that it’s actually good. Now that’d be a surprise.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor