MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Visit’ Is A Tepid Return To Form For Shyamalan

TheVisit

Film: The Visit
Starring: Peter McRobbie, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan, purveyor of all things plot twists and bizarre oddities, goes back to the basics with The Visit. The numbing silences of tension that overtake most of his other films take a backseat to blunt dark comedy and increasingly strange occurrences. Sure, the cinematic scourge that is found footage is utilized in this, but it’s not overbearingly ugly. It’s ironic to think that Shyamalan used to be a director who studios threw inordinate amounts of money at. Now, he has a stripped-down, five-million-dollar horror thriller produced by Jason Blum and Blumhouse, the production company giving creative control to its filmmakers in exchange for a smaller budget.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are shipped off to their grandparents’ house in rural Pennsylvania for a week after their mother (Kathryn Hahn) goes off on a sea cruise with her new boyfriend. They’ve never met Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan) but are excited to learn about their mother’s roots and why she left her parents so abruptly many years ago. Becca and Tyler start to fear for their lives as increasingly weird and dangerous things happen over the course of the week.

Becca fancies herself to be a young documentarian. You know, the kind that wants to milk genuine human emotion from reality but in a cinéma vérité style. Once her investigative instincts kick in, she bites off more than she can chew. If this is a reflection upon Shyamalan himself, the text is clear. After all, this is the man who inserted himself into Lady in the Water as a writer-turned-hero trope. There’s a really palatable authenticity vs. forced dramatics through-line in The Visit, which makes the 90-minute run time cruise by efficiently.

On the other hand, whether you like the film or not is almost totally dependent on your patience and how satiated you are with the final 15 or so minutes. The Visit is the kind of film that leaves a trail of breadcrumbs, builds up tension until it’s unbearable and then drops the climax like a hammer through a glass window. And be forewarned, this is the same kind of audience-engaging fare that the Paranormal Activity films are; just not to the extent of grainy handheld shots and shaky cam, of course.

The Visit uses found footage well because it finds a natural way to use it as a story element while also not giving way to its worst qualities. Shyamalan seems much more fascinated playing with the viewer’s expectations of his work than actually producing jump scares. Sure, there are quite a few of the latter but it’s kind of clear that the once-prolific director is struggling with going back to what people used to love. The trademark plot twists are front and center in the film, but they aren’t nearly bizarre enough to be considered unique or a “change” for the director. For once, I wanted him to fly off the handle like the end of Signs. Instead, the twist comes off limp, almost making it indiscernible from any other run-of-the-mill thrillers.

Disappointment is abound when you realize the running time gets filled with little story footnotes that look obvious enough to be brought up again as the film progresses but never do. You will see opportunities for the story to progress into much more bizarre fare, but Shyamalan reins it in for a much easier conclusion. Shame, really.

Luckily, the performances lace the threadbare story with dark humor, and sometimes brutally funny comeuppance. Oxenbould, who is totally fine in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, plays the freestyle-rapping and funky-anecdote-throwing Tyler in a way that’s not thoroughly ingratiating. The perfect balance between funny and over-the-top. McRobbie is the one actor pitch perfect for the part of Pop Pop; his low-baritone voice coupled with maniacal chuckling reminded me of the late, great Vincent Price, chewing scenery and adding a layer of self-awareness all at the same time. Dunagan isn’t given much to do as Nana, except in a physical nature. She’s called upon to fill a room with silence and teary eyes multiple times, and she’s fine at doing exactly that.

The Visit is Shyamalan’s best film in years, which isn’t saying much. It’s incredibly refreshing to know that a filmmaker can and is willing to return to his roots to mine for things he’s lost over years of making high-budgeted studio flicks, though. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish this was gonzo levels of weird that Lady in the Water or The Village was.

GRADE: C+

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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  • Chico Lopes

    Good to see Shyamalan is back to a good movie, after doing so many failures. I think that the best horror movies (like Psycho) must also be funny to really function.