I would really like to see a return to greatness for M. Night Shyamalan. I’m a big fan of what I consider to be his very best film, Signs, and I was fine with The Sixth Sense. Unbreakable should’ve been great … but that ending. Sheesh.
One could argue that he has been the worst big-movie director in Hollywood since Signs, compiling an unholy streak of moose-spunk movies along the way. He’s been worse than Michael Bay, who at least made the somewhat fun Pain and Gain during that stretch. Shyamalan has put out The Village (awful), Lady in the Water (dog dookie), The Happening (epically bad), The Last Airbender (How is he still getting jobs?) and After Earth (It can’t get any worse than this, right?).
Now comes The Visit, a smaller-scale, $5 million film that shoots for pure horror with a PG-13 rating—a combination which always irks me. On the good side, I can report that Shyamalan shows some of the style and flair found in his earlier films, and he manages a few truly good scares. On the bad side, he’s using the distracting “found footage” gimmick, and it essentially wrecks the movie.
Young Becca and Tyler (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould), both savvy amateur-camera operators (of course), have never met their grandma. When Mom (Kathryn Hahn) decides to go on a cruise with her boyfriend, she leaves the kids with her parents, even though they have been estranged for many years. Becca and Tyler are game, so they board a train to Pennsylvania to meet Nana and their granddad.
Things get weird fast on the farm. Nana (a delightfully strange Deanna Dunagan) is prone to sleepwalking and projectile-vomiting, sometimes naked, after 10:30 p.m., while Pop Pop (a creepy Peter McRobbie) has a tendency to stick shotguns in his mouth and pile his used adult diapers in strange places.
Becca fancies herself a documentary filmmaker, and Tyler likes to rap. This is bad, bad news for the movie, because whenever the film gets going, it soon stumbles, thanks to found footage and Tyler’s stupid rap songs. Shyamalan’s ability to frame a shot or a good scare are evident in The Visit, but then he drifts off into shitty Paranormal Activity territory, with dopey sequences involving setting up the camera to capture Nana’s mischief—and, of course, not dropping the camera and keeping Nana in frame when she’s in scary pursuit. Good God, this gimmick needs to be outlawed.
I will give Shyamalan credit in that he caught me off guard with his usual “big twist.” After I ruined my experience watching The Sixth Sense by trying too hard to guess what was going on (which I did in 15 minutes), I purposefully set out to remain blissfully ignorant while watching this one. When the twist comes, it’s a solid gut punch. Then Becca managed to keep her camera rolling during another potentially scary sequence, and I fell out of synch with the film again.
Dunagan makes a mark as the worst … grandma … ever. Yes, she makes cookies and plays board games, but she also chases the kids with knives and scurries after them in the basement, looking like the ghost from The Ring. McRobbie wears a perpetual scowl and says random, strange things to cement his standing as marginally scary.
Shyamalan basically had a low-level idea about scary grandparents, so he worked in the found-footage gimmick to give the story a sense of purpose. Perhaps he’s getting scared of himself and his own talents, because a good, creepy-grandparents story done on a shoestring budget could’ve been great. Yes, The Visit had the potential to be a good, solid horror film had it gone for a R rating and dropped the found-footage motif. But instead, it’s just another sub par effort from Shyamalan, who now hasn’t made a decent movie in 13 years.
The Visit is playing at theaters across the valley.