Reviews

The Pros and Cons of M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Visit'

M. Night Shyamalan creates an engaging found footage film that helps you to care for the main characters and wish them the best throughout this suspenseful (if never terrifying) ordeal.


The Visit

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn
Length: 94 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2015
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: PG-13
UK Release Date: 2016-01-18
US Release Date: 2016-01-05

M. Night Shyamalan made a big splash and subsequent name for himself with introspective and shocking films like The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000) and became a fan and critical darling based on the strength of these films. Over the next several years he had varied success with films like Signs (2002) and The Village (2004) but personal vanity projects like Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008) marked the beginning of a downward spiral for the writer/ director. By the time the critically lambasted The Last Airbender (2010) and the big budget box office failure After Earth (2013) were released, none of the reverence that once came with the name M. Night Shyamalan was anywhere to be found.

Thus, “Night”, as he is known, decided to follow things up by going a completely different way with a more “back to basics” horror film for Universal Pictures known as The Visit (2015). Many have called this film proof that Shyamalan is back, a complete triumph and a return to form.

That isn’t exactly true. The Visit isn’t a return to the magic that made The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable great films and is, instead, an experiment in the fading (yet still popular) subgenre of found footage horror. Sure, it might have been a risk for the now-veteran filmmaker to take, but it wasn’t a great risk. In fact, The Visit is something of a direct opposite of After Earth in that it's a smaller-budgeted film ($4 million as opposed to After Earth’s $135 million) that led to big profits and acclaim (neither of which After Earth achieved). In short, while Shyamalan’s creation of The Visit wasn’t exactly predictable, it was certainly a very smart move on the part of the filmmaker that, indeed, does seem to have put him back on the map in a very positive way.

Further, the experiment itself turns out to have been a success. No, it doesn’t stand up there with Shyamalan’s very best films, but compared to his last two it is practically brilliant. Judging the film by its own merits, however, it's still pretty damned good and a lot of fun. This is no mere “safe” entry into the Found Footage subgenre. As the picture goes on The Visit does, indeed, begin to feel like an M. Night Shyamalan film.

The plot surrounds teenaged brother and sister Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and Becca (Olivia DeJonge) who embark on a trip to finally meet their maternal grandparents who have been estranged from their mother (Kathryn Hahn) since before the kids were born. Aspiring filmmaker Becca decides to film as much as she can to make a documentary about the proceedings (and, of course, to give us our “found footage”).

At first, the grandparents (played by Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan) seem both friendly and very normal. In fact, the title visit goes swimmingly. However, soon strange rules begin to emerge that make the kids question both the health and sanity of their hosts. As the week goes on, “Nana” and “Pop Pop” begin to act more and more strangely to the point that the kids become absolutely terrified.

Unfortunately the audience doesn’t exactly follow the kids into this horror. To be sure, there are some very suspenseful moments in this overall interesting film and the mystery of what exactly is going on never fails to hold viewer attention. That said, The Visit is never all that scary (the film is safely in PG-13 territory) and the “surprise twist ending” that Shyamalan is so well known for is really easy to see coming. Still, even though the audience may be well aware of what the “surprise” is going to be, Shyamalan constructs the whole thing well enough that we want to know how this will be revealed and what might happen afterward. In short, while this may not be the scariest or most inventive film out there, it's a lot of fun and worth staying through to the end for.

There are a lot of both the good and the bad “Shyamalanisms” in this film to both support the argument that this is a good comeback and to show that he isn’t the filmmaker he was 15 years ago. Foreshadowing for a really “nifty” extra surprise in the overall twist ending feels a lot more trite than it did in, for example, Signs. To be fair, had the director simply gone back to proven ground and created a carbon copy of The Sixth Sense, his star would surely be further tarnished and that experiment would have backfired. With The Visit, Shyamalan did create an engaging found footage film that helps you to care for the man characters and wish them the best throughout this suspenseful (if never terrifying) ordeal.

The 2016 Blu Ray contains some fun extras including an alternate ending, deleted scenes a making-of documentary and a collection of Becca’s photos from the visit.

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