Written by Brenda Ortiz, Staff Writer
For many moviegoers and film fans, the very mention of M. Night Shyamalan’s name causes a number of reactions: irritation, laughter, and rage in some others, I’m sure. While the director had a number of commercial and critical successes such as The Sixth Sense and Signs, he’s also had more than his fair share of flops in recent years, most notably The Last Airbender, which despite making over 300 million at the box office, was universally panned and gained Shyamalan the ire of Avatar fans, adding on to his already rapidly failing reputation. However, is it possible for a once-acclaimed director to return to his former glory after a string of misses?
His latest film gives us a resounding “maybe.”
The Visit is a found footage horror comedy. And no, it’s not as awful as that sounds. Written, produced, and directed by Shyamalan, it tells the story of two children, aspiring documentarian Rebecca and wannabe rapper Tyler, who go visit their long lost grandparents and decide to film the week they spend with them. The grandparents, John, and Doris, are a seemingly sweet and perfect couple, who despite being a bit erratic and strange at times, welcome the children with open arms. It isn’t until the near end of the week that Rebecca and Tyler realize that there is something odd–and evil–about them.
The found footage medium is a controversial one for horror fans. Some dislike it for the annoying camera work and cliches. Some enjoy it, citing the sense of realism it can give a film along with how accessible it can be for low budget works with unknown actors. Some staples of the subgenre include The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and The Taking of Deborah Logan (which come to mention it, seems very, very similar to The Visit; from the scary senile old people right down to the estranged daughter.) In fact, M. Night Shyamalan had a miniscule budget of 5 million and a cast of unknown actors, a welcome change from his usual massive budget CGI-filled thrillers. The end result was bizarre and sometimes hard to follow, despite all its shortcomings, as it had all the heart his recent works severely lacked.
For a horror film, it stays away from any graphic violence and focuses more on realistic terrors such as senility and dementia as well as some squicks such as incontinence used to terrorize a germaphobe. The characters all seem more or less like real people dealing with real problems who have been suddenly thrown into a nightmare. The deteriorating conditions of the supposed grandparents, while nothing new or original, adds to the tension and tragedy of the story. Adding a few jump-scares for good measure, and you have a film that’s got the horror aspect of it down decently enough. The weakest part of the film was the comedy. I went in not knowing it was supposed to even be a comedy and was absolutely baffled when Tyler started rapping instead of cringing as I was probably supposed to. Not to mention that very last scene before the credits start rolling was entirely unneeded.
The Visit was an okay enough film. Considering the few plot holes it had (seriously how did the mother know those weren’t her parents from that far if she hasn’t seen or contacted them in any way for over a decade? What’s with the weird imposter thing that nobody even really reacts to?) and how nonsensical it seemed at times, especially with the typically contrived twist typical of Shyamalan. It’s clear to me as a viewer and as a horror fan that there was an effort made for this movie. It’s not spectacular or groundbreaking by any means, but it was amusing and engaging and after everything Shyamalan has come to be known for, it’s more than we could have ever expected.