Director M. Night Shyamalan has had a rough go of it for a while. Lady In The Water, The Last Airbender, and After Earth are just a few recent movies that quickly brought down a once promising career. It’s difficult to imagine another filmmaker whose filmography has become one long punchline, and it’s even more difficult to talk about Shyamalan without mentioning it. (See?)
So his new film, The Visit, comes at perhaps the most critical point in his career thus far; it’s now or never to finally put out something good. So did the disgruntled director finally pull it off? Unfortunately – maybe even predictably – no. But, that’s not to say that The Visit is easily the most entertaining product Shyamalan has put out in years.
The Visit is a thriller/horror film; no surprise there, since that’s Shyamalan’s forte. But the film could just as easily be called a comedy, serving up a barrage of laughs that could make an A-lister-studded comedy jealous. This is all thanks to the wit of Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), a sister and brother whose estranged mom (Kathryn Hahn) sends them off on a train to visit their grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), for a week. Thing is, the kids have never met their grandparents, and the mom hasn’t seen the old folks since a feud long ago. Being the technically and culturally savvy teens they are – Becca is a budding filmmaker and Tyler is an aspiring rapper, going by the moniker T-Diamond Stylus – they clash with the old folks’ world often and hilariously. No, T-Diamond, Nana doesn’t know who Tyler the Creator is.
The Visit is a found-footage movie, told from the perspective of two cameras Becca brings along to shoot a documentary about their visit. Along with cataloging their activities, Becca hopes to more deeply understand mom’s tattered relationship with Nana and Pop Pop. This found-footage style combined with a small budget and talented cast of not-so-well-knowners makes The Visit a back-to-basics approach for Shyamalan’s filmmaking - something that appears to have worked out incredibly well.
Of course, the thriller is Shyamalan’s fotre, which The Visit also delivers well. Something is definitely up with Nana, whose sundown syndrome causes nightly scares. There’s a reason Pop Pop says bedtime is at 9:30 PM. That’s already on top of the unsettling air of creepiness that surrounds Nana, and the oddities of Pop Pop. There isn’t quite a villain in this horror story so much as there is the fear of old people – especially from Becca and Tyler’s literal point of view, where they’re meeting Nana and Pop Pop for the first time, just like the audience is.
There are the typical jump scares, and other downright creepy sequences that make The Visit deserving of its placement in the thriller genre. In response, Becca and Tyler (but especially Tyler) cope with their fear using humor and jokes that cause waves of laughter. There is a perfect ebb and flow of horror and comedy in The Visit, making for a deeply satisfying and even gratifying theatrical experience. This is a movie you’d prefer to catch in a packed theater.
In classic Shyamalan form, there is a plot twist to be unraveled later in the film. Not feeling forced nor contrived, it injects a heap of suspense and fear into the film’s closing scenes, and sets up the film’s biggest scares and even a few moments of complete, utter disgust. (Definitely get to the theater for that.) Mom - who keeps in touch with the kids regularly via Skype - can't get home fast enough.
While it’s no masterpiece of genre like The Sixth Sense, The Visit shows plenty enough of value and worth to be called one of Shyamalan’s better films in recent memory. It would be too soon to say that Shyamalan has returned to form, but the movie is too enjoyable to be passed up simply because of the name of its director.
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, and Peter McRobbie.