M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t exactly had the best run of releases over the past few years. In fact some of them have been downright appalling examples of cinema that seem so far from his early career talent, we all wondered what the hell was going on. But now he is back, and things seem a whole lot better.
Partnering up with Universal and Blumhouse Productions, the story has a single mother (Kathryn Hahn) sending her two children off to visit her parents for the first time. She herself has not kept in contact with them, and so she has some apprehension about the planned trip. But she wants her son (Ed OxenBould) and daughter (Olivia DeJonge) to see them while they still can, and allow herself to have some well needed time off. Their week-long stay begins well, but as time passes the kids witness something is very off about their grandparents, that only escalates as the week progresses.
It is best to stop there and not spoil any more of the story, because the reveals and surprises are worth the time you put into the film. And saying just that alone about a Shyamalan piece is an immediate improvement on his recent works. It all plays out as a Horror/Drama, with the family story having a large impact on what is going on, and more importantly, why things are as they are. I would love to dive in and discuss it all in detail, but… you’ll thank me for not doing that.
Starting with that family aspect, I must say it is both written, directed, and acted to a pretty high standard. The kid actors are genuinely talented, and work together very well. The daughter is slightly controlling and authoritative, but also kind hearted. While the boy is energetic, funny, the cool kind of lame rapper, but also seems to have some emotional issues he is battling against. Their personalities offer a lot of opportunities for engaging scenes and interesting conversations, which again, because they are written effectively means you buy into them as being siblings. The mother is not directly given a lot of personality – you discover it from little bits and pieces scattered through the narrative. But she definitely has some big issues that have to be addressed, and are probably why the trip was decided upon in the first place.
As for the grandparents… without giving too much away that would hurt your viewing experience, they flip-flop in their character archetypes in a way that is both unsettling and difficult to determine the origin of. You begin to provide one internal explanation for yourself, and then another scene makes you consider your theory and alter it. I didn’t get the feeling that their real selves are telegraphed early on, but if you were clever enough, you could figure it out. I didn’t unfortunately which either means I’m not very good at the detective work, or that the film did its job well.
Moving on to the Horror side, which may divide audiences on whether it is indeed “Horror” or not for the first two acts. You will either be creeped out by their actions and strange behaviour, or just think that Grandma’s gone off her meds again. It may not be scary in the classic sense, but it will un-nerve you to see old people act here in the way they do. Throw-away lines make you want the kids to get the fuck out of that house and run for it, while the disturbances which happen during the night make the appear almost inhuman to a level where you forget they are in a typical country farmhouse. It all made me squirm in my seat, even though I was never actually frightened at all.
The positives here are pretty easy to pick out and list down. As mentioned the acting is both well performed and brings in good character development that really makes you care for them and want to know more about them. Horror movies tend to have a tough time pulling off this end result, but when they are successful, it can significantly improve the whole story from the audience’s point of view. The found-footage editing is crisp and never pulls you out by throwing the camera viewpoint to an area it shouldn’t be in. It all feels quite believable and the premise for the kids having the cameras is set up early on for you to accept. The set design is perfectly fine, the sound design have some very good moments, and the narrative is delivered in a nice fashion that never has you out randomly guessing what is going on.
Now, the film does have flaws which are specific to the third act, and again, I will keep away from specifics. It all boils down to how the choice for where the story is going is delivered. The choice is fine, but when you see it on the screen it feels kind of rough compared to how solid the rest of the film was playing out. There was a step up which they kind of stumbled up to, and once there just plays out to the resolution that you know will happen. It is kind of weird to be honest – M. Night decided on a good twist, but brought in one or two of his tropes that weren’t executed to full effect.
So did this disappointment at the end reduce the effectiveness of “The Visit” for me? Surprisingly not as much as you might think. Although it was indeed a let-down, it is not the WTF moment of previous releases by this director, and so is more my personal thought on it than anything else. With so much of the running time holding my attention and engagement so well, I find it hard to be too bruising on the film.
This is a big, BIG improvement for Shyamalan, probably one of his best works. yes, I am just as surprised to be writing this down as you are to read it. I honestly went into this movie knowing it got a lot of approval, but unsure as to whether I would feel the same. But I had a really good time watching this one, with the Drama being the strongest card it has to play but the creepy Horror not far behind. If you passed this one by because of the name attached to it, you need to go back and give it a chance.
Thanks for reading!