M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit has been hailed by some critics as a return to form for the much maligned filmmaker. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Visit is another woeful outing from a director that has inundated us with terrible films. It doesn’t quite reach the depths of The Happening or The Last Airbender, mercifully. It is another gimmicky, parlor trick film. The Shyamalan ‘twist’ ending is blatantly obvious within the first ten minutes. There are some humorous moments and the young leads are well cast. That’s as high as my praise can go for The Visit.
Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould star as Becca and Tyler. Precocious siblings who are visiting their grandparents for the first time in rural Pennsylvania. The back story is their mother (Kathryn Hahn) has been estranged from her parents for fifteen years. The kids want to meet their grandparents and allow their mother to go on a week-long cruise with a new boyfriend. The kids are picked up by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) with fanfare at the train station. Dutifully documented by the children who are making a film about the long awaited reunion.
Nana and Pop start exhibiting strange behavior from day one. But it’s their activities at night that really confuse and terrify the children. This is a spoiler free review, so you’ll have to see The Visit to learn Pop Pop’s rules. As the week goes by, the children become more convinced that something is terribly wrong with their grandparents. They express their fears to their mother via Skype, but she chalks everything up to old age.
I walked into The Visit completely cold. All I had seen was the poster. The found footage setup of the story caught me completely by surprise. The fact that the children are filming leads to the requisite skewed camera angles and lack of steady cam. So you have scene after scene of bouncing images, which are supposed to heighten the tension, but is really just annoying as hell. This found footage genre that has overtaken horror needs to end. Going to the movies shouldn’t be like watching an amateur film. It’s another stupid gimmick that gets old very fast.
Suspension of disbelief needs to be thrown out of the window here. Once again, no spoilers, but it is impossible to imagine that children would be left in these circumstances with zero knowledge of what to expect. This is all fodder for the major script flaw that holds up the premise. Only the primary setup of the kids visiting the grandparents is straightforward. But even as the mystery unfolds, all of the characters behave completely illogically. You have the constant reinforcement of how alone the children are. The characters repeatedly state that there’s no cell phone coverage and the town police is a one man shop. Shyamalan is literally spelling out that they’re trapped.
All of the scares are textbook. It’s dark, a quick edit or jump cut, then something jumps out at you. Creepy music builds, gets quiet, then voila, you’re scared. It’s an exercise in unoriginality. Granted, some audience members were affected, but any horror fan would only muster a chuckle at the cheesiness.
The most successful part of The Visit is the humor. Tyler is a wannabe rapper. His comical rhymes and ethnic emulation are funny. A depressing side story about their father abandoning them almost sinks the humor. But Shyamalan knows where the strength of his movie lies. The rapping and genuine sibling chemistry between the young actors adds believability.
The Visit was very difficult to sit through. The twist is apparent early on, then it’s a torturous ninety-minutes watching the characters discover the obvious for themselves. Shyamalan, as in The Sixth Sense, wants that payoff moment of realization. It falls like a thud in the third act because it’s not a clever reveal. The Visit is another notch in Shyamalan’s belt of bad movies. But like an abused spouse, we keep going back for more.