The Visit (2015)
Dir: M. Night Shyamalan
Hailed as ‘Shyamalan’s return to form’, ‘The Visit’ sees the director rising from recent depths, yet in my opinion still not quite to the heights he’s previously enjoyed.
Teenage siblings Tyler and Becca (Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge) go to meet their estranged grandparents (Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan) for the first time, filming the whole weeks visit themselves but quickly realising something is seriously wrong in their grandparent’s home.
M. Night Shyamalan is an interesting director. After his first few films made him a ‘one to watch’ and hailed as the new Hitchcock, he then went through one of the roughest patches professionally imaginable. ‘Lady in the Water’ wasn’t much liked, ‘The Happening’ was really disliked, and ‘The Last Airbender’ was universally hated. This led to Shyamalan’s name not being used in such a prominent way when promoting ‘After Earth’ in 2013, he was omitted from most of the posters (whereas his name has been clearly featured on ever poster since ‘Unbreakable’ even in instances he was just producer or writer rather than director), his involvement was skimmed over in interviews, in fact you could very easily have completely missed the detail that he even directed it! Thus it was with a sense of trepidation I went to see his latest film, partly due to the high chance of it being another failure and also because I’m not really a fan of horror especially certain types.
The trailers shown before the movie at the cinema had me quite worried it was going to just descend into a paranormal horror as 3 of them were for movies that are exactly that. However I had a strong feeling of confidence that Shyamalan wasn’t going down that road with it based on past experience of his work. Thank goodness I was right. This movie takes a different route to add tension and horror, drawing heavily on a fear of strange and inexplicable behaviour.
The ‘found footage’ technique has been overused in the past few years, with only a few instances where you can really appreciate it as being the best way of conveying the story, such as ‘Chronicle’. In this case I can at least see the point, there’s an argument to be made for the way it allows the audience to see the situation emerge and develop at the same pace it does for the kids and have the same information to go on as they do. Also in the pursuit of eliciting scares there’s little doubt that this way of shooting can create an unsettling feeling and capture angles and shots that are good for shocks.
I found it very tense in places and while you may be able to guess the twist at the end I can’t say I completely did, certainly not precisely. I’m not sure yet how it will hold up on repeat viewings, whether knowing the truth of the situation will lessen the impact, though I think that there’s a certain inherent tension and frightening quality to how it’s filmed and certain particularly disturbing scenes and moments which would probably remain unsettling on future viewing.
There are also parts of the film that are simply annoying. While the child actors are generally very good in their roles, a few moments don’t ring true and cross over into silliness that runs a strong risk of undermining the rest of the film. Most especially is Tyler’s rapping, yes you read that right, an awkward white teenage boy rapping. If I was his sister editing her footage those moments would’ve been cut straight out, even more so if I was an Oscar nominated director. The other cut that would’ve been wise is the end, as the movie could have neatly ended a few minutes sooner than it does when it comes to a very natural and effective end. Sadly it goes on for another scene that offers unneeded resolution. I’d very much have preferred to be left at a point of heightened tension. If you see the film you’ll absolutely know exactly where I think it should’ve ended as you will almost certainly feel the same.
It has divided audiences and critics, many loving it and many hating, and while I can see arguments for both reactions I found myself more towards the positive end of the spectrum. There are elements that are irrefutably annoying and feel almost misjudged, but the tense scenes are quite effective. Maybe that wouldn’t be the case for someone more well-versed and acclimatised to horror but for me and my rare horror viewing it was very effective.
There are definitely bits that could have been trimmed out, I think these lighter elements were written in to help establish the movie as a PG-13 rather than something darker, but it could still be that without them. In fact I’m absolutely certain that with a few minutes of cuts this would be a far better film and much more favourably received. While I don’t think that the visit is Shyamalan back on form completely, it is certainly a film he can feel happy to put his name on again and I hope that his future projects will be once more good enough to be referred to as ‘M. Night Shyamalan’s…’