The Visit – Who Keeps Giving Money to M. Night Shyamalan?

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Directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan. Produced by Marc Bienstock, Jason Blum, and M. Night Shyamalan. September 11, 2015.

Audiences have an odd fascination with M. Night Shyamalan, a director who’s only directed one truly great film in his career (Unbreakable), and has followed it up with a series of bad-to-mediocre-to-hilarious entries in the decade and a half that followed. But because he fooled us once with The Sixth Sense – an okay movie that is only memorable for its twist; you know the one – and because we want to be properly fooled again, each time he releases a new film, we start hoping that “this will be the one.” This will be the one that marks his return to prominence. This will be the one that re-establishes him as a director to watch. This will be the one that ensures the studios will stop trying to hide his name from trailers, since the audience will no longer feel the need to laugh upon seeing it.

The Visit is M. Night Shyamalan’s newest movie. It sees a couple of children, Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), go to the house of their grandparents, whom they’d never before seen, for a week. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) left home at a young age and hadn’t spoken to her parents for years, but now they want to meet her children, so a trip is arranged. Rebecca has decided to become a filmmaker, documenting the entire trip with a couple of video cameras. As such, the trip is presented to the audience in found footage.

The Visit CineMarter #1

The children’s visit to their grandparents’ house begins fine, but soon enough they begin to notice things are a little weird. Nana (Deanna Dunagan), for instance, suffers from fits at night which see her run around the house, claw at doors, and essentially act like she’s possessed. And Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie) seems to be hiding things in a barn, and may be suffering from some sort of dementia. The grandparents always seem to have a logical explanation prepared when the children question their strange behavior. What’s going on? Is it just a case of old people being odd? Or is there something more sinister afoot?

Shyamalan hopes that we’ll be so fascinated by the grandparents that we’ll be asking these questions, that we’ll be fooled by every red herring, and that the twist – because there is a twist – will seem so shocking that it’ll make The Visit memorable, captivating, and scary. It is a horror movie, after all, and given the amount of jump startles packed into a relatively tight running time, you’re not going to forget that.

Unfortunately, the first three quarters of the movie often attempt to be quite funny, and as such, when The Visit wants to be a real horror movie, there’s a great amount of tonal whiplash. It’s almost as if Shyamalan wanted to make a high satire of found footage horror movies, but then chickened out at the end in order to throw in a twist, turning what didn’t work but at least felt different into something that doesn’t work and feels generic.

The Visit is yet another disappointing entry in the career of M. Night Shyamalan.

The premise is a good one, but only remains that way for about 30 minutes. It’s after this point, and a lot of dead ends, that we realize it should have been a short film, not a feature. This might be a result of the execution, not the premise itself, since what we get is a largely repetitive movie until the final third. The kids walk around, see their grandparents do something strange, comment on it or try to figure out what’s going on, and then are given an explanation – or it’s passed off as “old people are weird.”

We also learn at the end that all of this is done in service of giving us a morality lesson, because that’s one thing that Shyamalan likes to throw into his movies. The children had a father who left them, something they may or may not have to let go, just like how their mother probably should have forgiven her parents for whatever happened a long time ago. So, yes, this is a horror movie in which the main idea is “let go of your grudges.”

When horror movies are anchored with child performances, that’s usually the first sign that it’s not going to be any good. Just look at Poltergeist and Sinister 2 for two recent examples. Olivia DeJonge isn’t particularly bad or annoying as the older child. She’s not a deep actor here, but at least she isn’t frustrating to watch. Ed Oxenbould, meanwhile, plays his role so annoyingly that you may start rooting for the grandparents to murder him. It’s bad enough that he often displays no emotion on his face, but he’s also given multiple rapping scenes, which are just cringe-inducing. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are the ones who are really worth seeing, but they only show up in small, albeit entertaining, bursts.

With its found footage gimmick, a bunch of jump startles, child lead actors, a morality lesson, tonal whiplash with its final third, and a premise that feels like it would have been better suited for a short film than a feature, The Visit is yet another disappointing entry in the career of M. Night Shyamalan. Those hoping that this would be his “comeback” film are going to be disappointed. This is a movie that fails on so many levels that any of its successes – like the acting of the grandparents – pale in comparison. The Visit isn’t any good, and it makes you have to wonder whether this will be the one … that puts an end to Shyamalan’s career.

Bottom Line: The Visit is a bad found footage horror movie that thinks jump startles are scary, red herrings are entertaining, and old people are icky.

Recommendation: Skip The Visit. You’d be better off watching The Happening if you want a funny horror movie directed by Shyamalan.



If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.

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