M. Night Shyamalan…we meet again! Something always brings me back to this guy one way or another, and it will always be a neverending struggle for me to want to see him hit his stride again after consistent flops. He even has my most hated film in his repertoire and it quite hard to forgive that slog, you can probably guess which one it is. I do enjoy some of his films in the whole, “it’s so bad it is good” kind of way. Though I have heard a lot of positivity regarding M. Night’s latest film, The Visit. I thought why not put it into the pool and perhaps see what happens and sure enough, like destiny, I managed to get this one. I’m not too optimistic about this one, as more often than not I am burned by both the director and the particular style of horror so this doesn’t seem to be a great combo. Who knows, for once in a long time I could be singing the praises of M. Night.
Found Footage often involves in the more modern sense, a very gimmicky style of directing. These films are supposed to have this underlying sense of realism to them and most times, much like The Gallows, lacks that entirely as it has distinct lighting and sound effects that shouldn’t be found in a FOUND FOOTAGE film. It is supposed to feel cheaply made, and The Visit does a great job of capturing the realistic element. The entire film is done in a very unique way for found footage. The little girl, Becca (Olivia DeJonge), is making a documentary about meeting her grandparents for the first time. This is in an attempt to talk about why her mother is estranged from her parents and to try and mend the problems they have had in their past. This is a very unique way of handling the found footage element of the film and it does so without outside machinations like sound design or special effects. It fully understands its perspective done through amateur filmmakers who love to have these very “artsy” angles and it is shown through the various times where they push their luck. To its sense of realism not usually found in found footage films, I really do applaud M. Night for that.
Most of the acting itself was I guess as believable as it could be. Due to its weird premise and unique take on found footage, sometimes it can come off a tad bit too hammy or hokey. Usually I find myself hating the one quirk leads in Shyamalan films, yet The Visit adds an extra dimension to them that explains the quirks in a more understandable way. Ed Oxenbould truly sells most of the film as the brother Tyler and acts as this air of levity that the film for the most part shoves in your face. It is trying to sell itself as funny at times, and perhaps the cringe comedy does work at times particularly only when Oxenbould. The children themselves had their father leave them and this “home documentary” delves just as much into how they tick as the grandparents and the mother do. DeJonge delivers some very vulnerable scenes, and Oxenbould does the exact same and I would call these two some of the better child actors that I have seen really. They are intelligent and do work off each other well, clashing with personality yet having that sibling chemistry that is very endearing.
Nana and Pop Pop though I have to tear into a bit, particularly Pop Pop as this is where the cheesiness of the film is too apparent. The twist of this film, while I won’t say what it is, is one of the worst twists in Shyamalan’s repertoire. It is quite obvious by a lot of elements and I had already guessed it before the kids ever had an inkling that something is very wrong with this situation. The plot kind of hinges on the suspense brought about by the grandparents, but there was never this sense of terror I felt from the grandparents. I mean sure the climax has disgusting moments, and sure the grandparents are crazy like no tomorrow, yet that doesn’t instill me with the fear that chills me to the bone. The film is done in a way that it is supposed to have both chills and levity, but when you telegraph what’s going to happen a mile away it loses its flavour. I’m bored let’s go play hide n’ sneak! You do know that this is just a setting designed for a jump scare, right? It isn’t funny how predictable some of these scenes are just played out.
I’m lacking that chilling atmosphere and I do enjoy some of the fun elements of the film, but then it hit me. I miss the Shyamalan touch. One could say M. Night has reached an almost auteur status as a filmmaker, you are either going to get a pretty solid and interesting film with weird ideas or you are going to get an absurdity that demands to be watched. There were middle ground films, much like the Village, but M. Night was never this…dull before. This film doesn’t have something I distinctly can call something distinctly M. Night, the quirks were well executed but not really the most groundbreaking, the filmmaking was surprisingly inventive, and the twist was predictable and way too average to be memorable.
The Visit, to me, is just a middling film that easily loses its flair early on and the mystery is too predictable that I lost interest in the film during its final act that wasn’t so much terrifying as it was stupid and ridiculous but in a disgusting and confusing way. The final act has the one instance in the film where I completely felt to myself “this loses the realism the film was trying to portray!” Becca is stuck in a room with Nana and she looks at Nana and she stares at her, Becca turns away (for some reason) and turns back a bit to find the grandmother closer. This happens once more and while this may work as a jump scare in SUPERNATURAL films, due to the mysterious/mystical element of the supernatural, it comes off as stupid and hokey in this one.
I do think Nana has some good scenes, particularly the ones with her being interviewed and especially the last interview. There is this vulnerability brought out of the character that just makes her less cheesy and over the top, and more grounded as a full character rather than some ridiculous caricature. The issues the grandparents suffer I feel are often played for gags or to be at times disgusting in some ways, and I just never bought the entire act at all. The film lacks an ability to make me care about the overall situation as arguably I feel like the film meanders for the most part as some days are just discovering something than hearing an excuse from Nana or Pop Pop. It is like this repetitious adventure horror film that throws out the horror for the most part for levity and it just gets boring by the end. The film is competently done, don’t get me wrong and usually lacks the misgivings a lot of his more recent efforts have been plagued with. One could call this the first step in a long revival of him as a director, but this first step will eventually be forgettable once he gets right back into the full swing of things. Ultimately I feel like M. Night didn’t bring his usual auteur style to the plate and The Visit ultimately suffers from being just another average “horror” film that will be forgotten among all his other directed pieces.
The Sixth Sense (1998) – Everyone probably knows about M. Night’s tour de force and most recognizable film. The Sixth Sense I feel many don’t talk so much about these days. While it is still regarded by people as his one standout film, it is always nice to give it that special nod especially as a recommendation.
Cloverfield (2008) – While not necessarily a scary film, I was pleasantly surprised with how Cloverfield ultimately took the found footage idea in different places. It lacks that more intimate feel of films like The Visit in preference for more spectacle, but its ability to at times take the viewer by surprise by both its logic (often dumb) and the events that take place makes it worth the watch even if its not really good overall.
Split (2017) – For the first time I genuinely feel intrigued by a Shyamalan film. It essentially has actor James McAvoy play a man with multiple personalities and from its trailer it seems like it could be yet another correct step in the right direction. Shyamalan is having a resurgence whether we like it or not, so why not just go along for the ride?
Found footage is certainly a tough genre to do correctly and I have yet to find a film that really told me this type of style is worth watching. More ideas like The Visit, just probably better execution please. So what do you think of M. Night Shyamalan’s style? Do you think he has hit that auteur status as a filmmaker? Please leave a comment down below and have yourself a great day!