The recent release of ‘The Visit’ has caused a lot of chatter and speculation about whether director M. Night Shyamalan can recover from his 10-year stumble. In the early 2000’s, Shyamalan’s reputation as a visionary young director who loved to include a “twist” in his movies was seemingly cemented by his unleashing of the phenomenal horror/suspense classic, ‘The Sixth Sense.’ This was followed by a string of solid films including ‘Unbreakable,’ ‘Signs,’ and ‘The Village.’ Then it unraveled with a run of critical box office failures spanning from 2006’s ‘Lady in the Water’ through 2013’s ‘After Earth,’ and notably including clunkers like ‘The Happening’ and ‘The Last Airbender’ (remember that one?), which severely tarnished his writer/director star. His disfavor among audiences had grown to the point of chuckles and eye-rolls at the mention of his name being associated with any new projects.
So, the big question on everyone’s minds with ‘The Visit’ is whether this movie would be the one to fully redeem Shyamalan in the public opinion, or would it simply continue the ugly streak. The answer isn’t as stark as you might imagine. While not a complete redemption, ‘The Visit’ has enough positive elements going for it to begin the restoration of a writer/director who, even after creating some awful movies, probably never deserved the level of hatred that some attached to his name.
‘The Visit’ is a horror/suspense/thriller centered on two young siblings, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and his slightly older sister Becca (Olivia DeJonge), who leave home to spend a week visiting their maternal grandparents who, due to a long-standing family rift, they’ve never previously met. It’s during this time at their grandparent’s rural home that the kids (and us) slowly discover that things with Nana and Pop-pop may not be what they seem. A week intended to be all freshly baked cookies, cheddar biscuits, and evening board games is transformed into one fraught with tension and horror.
Because Becca is a budding documentary filmmaker, the story unfolds to us through her ever-present camera lens, making this maybe the most messed up family vacation video ever. The low-budget “found footage” wrinkle by now isn’t a new idea nor is it necessary to the plot of the movie, but other than some possible minor shaky-cam motion sickness, it doesn’t cheapen or hurt the movie in any real way. While the movie stays true to the rules of the found footage style, Shyamalan makes it feel fresh by working into the mix enough of an interesting story premise, solid character development, and central mystery element set-ups to keep this movie from going full ‘Paranormal Activity.’
At its core, ‘The Visit’ is a thriller and if you put aside a couple of cheap jump-scares, there are plenty of effective moments of seat-edge tension and horror, especially in the film’s quieter, more organic moments, as the movie builds to its somewhat rushed and predictable climax. Fans of M. Night’s previous movies will no doubt wonder if “The Twist” makes a return. While we won’t spoil that for you, we will say this film feels like a major improvement upon what’s come in Shyamalan’s last several offerings.
Because this movie never strays far from centering on the two young protagonists, the effectiveness of the film rides fully on the relatability of these main characters and of course, the actors’ abilities to bring their characters believably to life. And here is where one of the films minor problems becomes evident. It seems that knowingly or not, Shyamalan amplifies both characters’ precociousness to the point of cringe-worthy annoyance at times. Fortunately, to offset this, there are some quieter character moments with both of the central characters that elevate those scenes, allowing the movie to transcend the horror genre in a refreshing way. Given that it’s a tall task for actors at this age to carry most of a film’s narrative, both young actors do a commendable job with the characters.
While ‘The Visit’ may not fully redeem M. Night Shyamalan from his previous filmmaking missteps, we give it 3 out of 5 paws! It is undoubtedly a solid step in a direction that could lead to greater things in his next films. Overall, this is a fun movie that is best seen at a weekend evening screening with friends or a date and if possible in a full theater as there are moments in the film that are sure to prompt visceral reactions from the audience, making for an even more enjoyable movie experience. ‘The Visit’ is available in wide release and is likely screening at major theater chains in your area.
Check out the full Movie Bears Podcast review of ‘The Visit,’ available in iTunes, Stitcher, or embedded below from YouTube.
By Jim Puliafico, Movie Bears Podcast