DIR/WRI: M. Night Shyamalan • PRO: Marc Bienstock, Jason Blum, M. Night Shyamalan • DOP: Maryse Alberti • ED: Luke Franco Ciarrocchi • DES: Naaman Marshall • CAST: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie
M. Night Shyamalan is something of an anomaly in the world of movie-making. His career has not so much climbed the steady ladder of success as veered wildly in a rollercoaster of inconsistency. Indeed, he seemed set for cinematic greatness with The Sixth Sense in 1999 and evidently has been trying to prove the world wrong since with rubbish such as 2008’s The Happening and 2010’s The Last Airbender. Shyamalan’s newest offering does not serve as a form of redemption- but it’s a step in the right direction.
Fifteen-year-old Becca (DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Oxenbould) set out for a week-long visit to their estranged grandparents, whom their mother (Hahn) has not had contact with since she ran away from home years earlier. Eager to offer her mother some closure, and to discover why her grandparents have held a grudge for so long, Becca, an aspiring filmmaker, decides to document her time with her grandparents through a camera. However, it quickly becomes clear that Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie) are hiding something sinister from the two siblings, and things just get stranger as the week drags on.
The utilisation of the ‘found-footage’ narrative seems like an odd choice for Shyamalan, particularly given the context within the film. Becca is only fifteen yet works her equipment like a pro. Similarly, her younger brother Tyler spouts out phrases like ‘mise-en-scene’ without blinking an eye. Neither of the children speaks (or acts) in an age-appropriate manner; it’s painfully clear that their dialogue was written by an adult who thinks this is what kids should sound like. As a result, our two heroes often come across as annoyingly pretentious and unlikeable. Oh, and the boy raps. That might be the scariest thing in the whole film.
There are some tongue-in-cheek moments that are clearly nods to Shyamalan’s own directorial hubris and, while a bit of self-awareness is always appreciated, it just doesn’t work within the film as a whole. There is a lot of misplaced humour scattered throughout film- usually in the form of Tyler’s wisecracks- that tends to extinguish the tension where it in fact needed building. The dramatic core of the film lies within the children’s anguish of their father’s abandonment. Tyler has become a germaphobe as a result and Becca is suffering from body image issues. These details are not handled delicately and are, in fact, wedged into the latter half of the film with little subsequent reflection. The performance of the two child leads cannot be faulted but the script gives them no room to show off their obvious talent.
The horror element of the film is perhaps its most jumbled aspect. While there are a few small jump scares to be had, and some mildly unsettling imagery, a lot of it comes off as unintentionally humorous. Initially, the children dismiss their grandparent’s odd behaviour as due to their advanced age- because evidently old people by their nature are inherently creepy. Things never truly escalate to a satisfactory level, plateauing sometime in the middle act. The twist revealed in the films third act (what’s a Shyamalan film without a twist, right?) actually does add to the story, but takes away greatly from the horror. When we finally reach the film’s climax, and it does take way too long to get there, everything we see can be explained away by what has just been revealed to us. Danger still lingers, but the unknown no longer has a part to play, thus diluting the experience.
The Visit is not Shyamalan at his worst, but it’s not him at his best either. For those with a keen sense of these things, the film’s twist will become obvious long before it’s actually revealed. Even the most casual of horror fans will be left unimpressed by this work, but if you’re just looking for a couple of cheap thrills- and that alone- then this film is worth checking out. But if you’re as bored with Shyamalan as I am, you won’t be missing anything special.
15A (See IFCO for details)
The Visit – Official Website