The Visit | M. Night Shyamalan | September 11, 2015
Found footage horror films are old hat in 2015, but its what writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has fallen back on for his latest (and lowest-budgeted) flick The Visit.
Teen siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are visiting their maternal grandparents in rural Maconville, Pennsylvania (a fictional town and stop, not to worry) for the first time ever after their mom Loretta (Kathryn Hahn) had a falling out with 15 years ago (some time before Becca’s birth). Becca’s into filmmaking, so she decides to make a documentary of the whole trip, in the hopes that Loretta will forgive her parents for the emotional falling out. Tyler, meanwhile, is a wannabe rapper whose mouth might need some soap to clean it out. The two meet their grandparents (Deana Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) at the Amtrak station for a week-long vacation, and after a day or two, things start to seem a little weird – not just because there’s next to no cell service or internet. So are Nana and Pop-Pop starting to go senile, or is something else afoot a la a Brothers Grimm tale?
That’s as far as I’m willing to go plot-wise without spoiling the movie’s twist (which you may be able to guess if you are so inclined). Perhaps the best way to go forward is to look at how The Visit fits into Shyamalan’s oeuvre and tropes. Yes, there are horror elements (unnecessary jump scares included – but nothing supernatural, which is a relief), precocious kids, adults questioning their abilities to parent, and the signature (maybe even mocked) twist. There’s only so much you can do with found footage films these days, but the documentary framing device was a nice touch (and it helped avoid vomit-inducing shaky-cam moments). The twist was, as I suggested, predictable (and even obvious), thanks to the little hints scattered throughout the film. However, for a film that’s roughly an hour and a half in length, it feels closer to two hours. Some sequences and days just drag, other moments are cut short, and some bits are not overly significant to the plot (even if they serve as callbacks during the climax).
Looking back at Shyamalan’s career since he broke onto the scene with The Sixth Sense (his 3rd film), The Visit may be considered a return to form (as I’m seeing around the web). It’s his 2nd cheapest film (a budget of $5 million, which seems like nothing compared to the roughly $130 million budget for After Earth), and he exercised a good deal of creative control (writing, directing, and producing) outside of working with studios. And it may have worked. The audience I was a part of had fun watching the film – shouting advice to the kids, laughing at Tyler’s raps and the jump scares, and maybe a little screaming, too. I’m not usually one for horror or found-footage films (or M. Night Shyamalan films – more recent ones than his earlier works), but I didn’t outright dislike the film as much as I had anticipated from the trailers.
Yes, the scary grandparents trope is problematic, the jokes might not fly for all audience members, the film drags, the scares might not be genuine, and the twist might be too predictable, but maybe it’s what Shyamalan needs after After Earth, The Last Airbender, Devil (which he wrote), and The Happening.