2015, PG-13, 96 mins.
2015, PG-13, 96 mins.
Kathryn Hahn as Mother / Ed Oxenbould as Tyler Jamison / Benjamin Kanes as Dad / Peter McRobbie as Pop-Pop / Olivia DeJonge as Rebecca Jamison / Deanna Dunagan as Nana
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
this monumentally low point in writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s
career…there’s nowhere for him to go but up.
astounding to ponder that, nearly twenty years ago, Shyamalan was once
considered a Hollywood wonderkid and the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg
and Alfred Hitchcock. THE
SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and SIGNS kind of reinforced this very notion.
Then came a series of progressively and increasingly misguided
artistic misfires like THE VILLAGE, LADY
IN THE WATER, THE HAPPENING,
and (uuggh) THE LAST AIRBENDER
that all but destroyed his initial reputation for being a consummate and
fairly masterful cinematic craftsman.
Recent efforts – like the sci-fi action thriller AFTER
EARTH – were more disposable and forgettable than wretched, but
it was abundantly clear that Shyamalan was still desperately
searching for his lost filmmaking mojo.
VISIT perhaps represents Shyamalan’s finest attempt in a decade-plus to
generate a legitimately involving scare machine worthy of our involvement. On a positive, this film represents the once promising
filmmaker at arguably his most stripped down and sparse: Working with a
scant $5 million budget and utilizing a found footage aesthetic,
Shyamalan’s newest horror thriller venture feels looser, more enjoyably
free-wheeling, and intriguing than his last handful of films.
Instead of concocting a borderline cockamamie premise and a ridiculously contrived twist
ending (THE HAPPENING, anyone?), Shyamalan
keeps everything relatively straightforward and simple this go around,
which is an improvement for him. The
main problem, though, with THE VISIT is that – much like many other
similar and recent genre efforts – it struggles to find validity in
utilizing a found footage look and feel throughout, not to mention that,
on a tonal level, the film is as all-over-the-map and nutty as some of its
a basic premise and execution level, THE VISIT mostly works.
Akin to many of his past films, Shyamalan sets his spooky tale yet
again in Pennsylvanian, this time involving a couple of inquisitive kids – Becca
(Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) – that wish to, despite their
mother ’s (Kathryn Hahn) consternation and disapproval, meet their
long estranged grandparents. The
mother has a dark and sad past with her parents (she left them decades ago
and has not seen or has spoken to them since), which leads the aspiring
filmmaker in Becca yearning to make a documentary about her and her brother
connecting with their elders. Things have not been
relatively good for this entire family, especially seeing as the
mother’s husband recently abandoned her and the kids, leaving everyone
and after much debate, the mother decides to allow Becca and Tyler to make
the venture out during one winter week to meet their “Pop Pop” and
“Nana,” during which time Becca chronicles everything with her camera.
The grandparents in question (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie, in
two thanklessly good performances) seem, upon a first meeting, like
typical and ordinary elderly folk that seem to be genuinely enthusiastic
about meeting and spending time with their grandkids for the first time
ever. They take them back to
their semi-secluded farmhouse in the country and, early on, everything
about the kid’s trip seems worthwhile.
Then…odd things begin to happen.
Pop Pop spends much of his time in a hypnotic daze when he’s not
shockingly attacking random strangers on the streets.
He also seems to spend an awful lot of time in his barn that (as
Tyler insists) “smells like ass."
Nana begins to fare no better. She awkwardly asks Becca to clean
their oversized oven…by climbing all the way in it.
That may seem innocent enough, but Nana’s nocturnal habits appear
more alarmingly psychotic. She
crawls on all floors at times, making crude animal noises.
Sometimes, she appears in the nude – in some sort of
sleepwalk-like trance – and mimes that she’s painting the walls.
Pop Pop, of course, insists that the kids remain in their rooms
after 9:30 pm…but the more disturbing behavior that Becca and Tyler
notice…the more they feel inclined to break the house rules and document
it for the camera.
so what the hell is going on here? Shyamalan
does indeed display flashes of his past directorial self in teasing and
tormenting audience members with possible answers.
There is, of course, a twist ending (a longstanding staple of his
films) that provides a would-be shocking answer that’s sort of
telegraphed very early on in the film with one stilted throwaway line of
dialogue. Regardless of the
obviousness of the narrative approach here, Shyamalan does generate a
palpable sense of unease throughout the film and seems to be mischievously
playing around with our preconceived notions of horror genre troupes.
THE VISIT takes great glee in showcasing the grandparents doing
seemingly inconsequential and mundane things and making them appear more
macabre than they are…or perhaps they are actually macabre…without
going into too much detail that would prove to be too spoilery.
VISIT also has a juicily improvisational tone that lends itself well to
immersing audience members within this bizarre trip for the children.
That, and Shyamalan – as he chiefly displayed in some of his
earliest films – blends comedy and jump-scares with a real adept touch.
Yet, for as memorably peculiar as THE VISIT looks and feels
throughout, Shyamalan seems a bit aloof at deciding what kind of film
he’s really trying to make here. The
movie clumsily shifts gears so much throughout its scant 90-plus minute
running time that it comes off as schizophrenic.
There are individual moments that drum up genuine sensations of
shock and awe in viewers, and then those scenes are shoehorned in-between
meta moments that are trying to be self-aware and semi-satirical about the
horror genre itself. When the
film takes a drastic detour in its climax and becomes more of a perfunctory
slasher/horror flick it’s almost as if Shyamalan didn’t feel secure
enough to embrace all of the outlandish possibilities of his film’s
premise to generate a thoroughly and appallingly unique payoff.
problem taints this film: It never once requires itself to be a found
footage film. Not at all.
THE VISIT belongs on a long recent list of genre efforts that
struggle to provide a logical rationale for its characters defying sound
common sense to record…everyone and everything them.
Becca is, I guess, Shyamalan’s voice in the film, seeing as she
frequently preaches to the nobility of aspiring to achieve lofty heights
of artistic integrity and originality in her production within the film.
Yet, Shyamalan using this character to sermonize his inner thoughts
seems distracting and too on-the-nose at times, not to mention that Becca
and Tyler never really feel like authentically rendered children.
They’re so impossibly verbose and well spoken at times that they
come off more as scripted characters and not ones that seem like natural
occurring entities in THE VISIT’S faux-documentary.
Found footage requires and demands naturalism, but Shyamalan’s
handling of these child characters feels to artificially staged
Is THE VISIT a return to form for the disgraced director? I guess, insofar as to say that it’s his best effort since 2002’s SIGNS. Yet, considering the relative wall of shame films that have punctuated his resume since then…describing THE VISIT as Shyamalan’s triumphant creative rebirth isn’t really saying much. It certainly doesn’t achieve the soul sucking mediocrity of his most recent work, but THE VISIT merely emerges as a modest, but shrug inducing workmanlike effort from a director still in search of a much needed source of inspiration. I liked what I saw here from Shyamalan, but based on past – make that distant past – precedent, he’s capable of more.