The Visit is a low budget PG-13 horror film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who has had more than his fair share of disappointments with the return on his previous four or five films. After a trio of terrific films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs) filled with depth, passion and questions about life came a slew of disasters that made most run gagging from the theaters. I was one of those people. Although my stance on The Village has softened over the years, (it has a great hour or so before it falls apart) the remainder of films that Shyamalan has written and directed with big studio money and backing have been nothing short of horrendous. Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and most recently After Earth were disasters on a grand scale. They may have made money and at least broke even, but it took forever to do so and Shyamalan did himself no favors with his fans. We were justifiably outraged at the garbage he was pumping out. In The Visit, Shyamalan has returned to more character driven, smaller, lower budget films. Well, kind of.
Shyamalan took the money he was paid for After Earth, went back to his suburban Pennsylvania home, wrote, directed and completely financed The Visit on his own, before he even had someone to distribute the film. Basically, he made it and hoped someone would pick it up and release it. Blumhouse Pictures saw it and gave it a chance. With a budget of five million dollars, (don’t know that I see anything or anywhere close to five million dollars on screen, but okay) The Visit is about a couple of kids, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) who are on their way to visit their grandparents for the first time. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) is taking in a cruise with her new boyfriend. So it’s off to grandparents house the kids go. Becca is an aspiring film maker and Tyler fancies himself as a rapper, so we are in for another “found footage” film.
The kids arrive, but it is not long before the children begin to realize that something is not right about the folks. Strange goings on, scratching, running and thudding at all hours of the night start to rattle Becca and Tyler who NEVER, EVER put the cameras down, no matter how bad things get. Nana and Papa seem like nice caring people, but they are hiding something. The kids aim to find out what. They try to contact their mother and let her know what is going on, but she responds,”They’re old. So give them some space and be patient.” The film takes place over a week, but in one scene the mother is on a cruise and the next scene she is back home. That is a pretty quick cruise. It is a minor detail but it is something I could not figure out.
The Visit is not a bad film, really but it does not seem to make up its mind on what it wants to do. There are some scares, some humorous bits and then there are odd bits that drew an uncomfortable laugh out of me. I was not sure that was the reaction Shyamalan wanted, but it is what he received, for sure. There is more going on in this film than needed to be. The opening of the film has the mother confessing that she has had a falling out with her folks many years earlier due to a relationship with a man who later became her husband and father to Becca and Tyler. He left her and the kids and it was very messy. The grandparents warned the mother that her hubby to be was no good, but she did not listen. Yelling, screaming and fists being thrown, pretty much ended any healthy chance for daughter and parents reconciling. This is explained in the opening scene and it seemed heartfelt and genuine. Becca seems to be a good filmmaker and documentarian. She knows what kinds of questions to ask to get a response that makes for interesting conversation however, I could have done without the boy being the rapper. Fortunately, there are only a couple of scenes that feature that element. Becca and Tyler have their own issues, too. Becca is unable to look at herself in the mirror and Tyler is a germaphobe. These are supposedly issues that relate to their father’s abandonment from the family years ago, but not much is really explored on that. These are themes that Shyamalan has dealt with in his best films and done it exceedingly well, too. Even in the low budget, but very effective film written by Shyamalan (but not directed by him) called Devil. Why he did not go deeper in this film is beyond me. Here, it is an afterthought, for the most part.
Instead what we get is a lot of creeping around at night and even in the daytime with something as innocent as hide and go seek. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) has those crazy eyes that either radiate love or hate depending on what time of day it is and Papa (Peter McRobbie) seems to be coldly stone faced most of the time and spends a lot of time out in the shed, doing God only knows what. Once in a while he will do something nice with the kids, like take them into town and sight see, but then Papa attacks a stranger who he says is following him. It is all very strange behavior. At one point, I even thought, Shyamalan would be taking real diseases that afflict the elderly and using as a horror plot device. That would have been horribly offensive to most. Although he comes close a couple of times, Shyamalan pulls back and lets us wait for his famous “twist” that people have come to expect with a film by Shyamalan. I am not one of those people who needs to have a special twist in each film. Frankly, the “twists” get old and redundant. Give me a film with interesting characters that drive the plot, then I don’t need any twist.
The script is decent although it is a far cry to Shyamalan’s earlier work. The acting is sufficient by the kids and the grandparents, but we have all seen better. If only the characters had more to do than to react to things that go bump in the night, Shyamalan might have really had something. One thing he does do well is create an uneasy mood and somber tone that exists in all of the cheerful banality of everyday life. Things that we often don’t really think too much about, Shyamalan is able to plant the seeds of distrust in the viewer’s psyche and it works in The Visit. If I had been advising Shyamalan, I would have told him to NOT make it a “found footage” film. It restricts him too much. He is confined to making sure that the “found footage” conforms to his storytelling rather than just focusing on the story itself. Let the story and the characters propel your film. On that level, Shyamalan really excels, but in The Visit, it is hit and miss.
Still, there is some fun to be had with The Visit. Shyamalan was right to stay out of the big studio mix and make this film on his own terms. I respect and appreciate what he has done here with The Visit. But, it is an odd film that seems too choppy and disjointed for me to recommend it but I can say this is the best film Shyamalan has done since Signs. However, calling it the best considering his previous work is not saying much. But, I am still convinced Shyamalan has great work left to be done. This is a step up and he has two films in the works as of right now. The Visit is one of those films, where some will love it and others will hate it. Watch Devil, instead. THAT was the kind of film I had hoped The Visit would be.
The Visit – **1/2 out of 5
The Visit – Rated PG-13 for language and brief nudity
The Visit – Run Time is 94 minutes