M. Night Shymalan - the wunderkind of Hollywood that was once said to be the next Steven Spielberg, now is one of the biggest running gags in Hollywood. Who could've seen that coming?
Deeper and deeper Shyamalan dug himself into the ground of incapable moviemaking with flops and unintentional comedies like The Last Airbender, After Earth or The Happening. Therefore, it's no wonder that each of his new projects seem to get less and less buzz or interest from audiences.
But that doesn't mean that Shyamalan is giving up that easily. With another mystery movie called The Visit, Shyamalan for the first time tackles a thriller told in a found footage style about two kids visiting their never before met grandparents who hold a dark secret.
Intriguing premises and big twists are nothing new for Shyamalan, but the question here is very simple: is this another Shymalan flop or does The Visit show that the director does indeed have some talent left in him even after all of his recent failures?
Two children are sent to their grandparents house to spend a week with their grandparents while their single mom goes on a relaxing vacation with her boyfriend. One of the kids, Becca, decides to film a documentary about her grandparents in order to help her mom reconnect with her parents and also find out some things about her parents as well. While filming the documentary, however, Becca and her little brother, Tyler, discover a dark secret about their grandparents.
Believe it or not, but after a very long time, The Visit surprisingly enough turns out to be one of director M. Night Shyamalan's most solid efforts. Though it's far away from being notably great or even rivaling his greatest efforts like Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, The Visit is a capable thriller with a big focus on horror elements.
Even though its premise starts off fairly simple, things around the two kids' grandparents' farm become increasingly more weird, unnerving and downright scary. The Visit manages to easily immerse you into the situation thanks to a mostly very well pulled off found footage style narration. Yet considering how mixed its overall acting and writing are in many parts, The Visit will definitely split viewers' opinions.
|Yeah...no...something fishy's going on in this place.|
What marks a new territory for Shyamalan with The Visit here is most notably the found footage narration. Under the premise that teenage girl Becca is doing a documentary about her first time visiting her grandparentsand, the entire movie is build upon the recordings being constantly made in favor of obtaining as much real and authentic footage of her grandparents as possible. Whereas some of the situations the camera is constantly recording still come off as a bit weird, for the most part the plot device of "a camera always being there to record every important thing happening" doesn't come off as too annoying or unbelievable. Instead though, the found footage always only being recorded by either one of the two kids elevates the horror elements in the movie very well. With the viewer never skipping the perspective to another character (aside from switching between the two kids), the entire movie is shown through the point of view from the kids, making the viewer himself always be just as smart, confused and shocked about the happenings on the farm as the kids themselves. This very tightly focussed method of narration in The Visit (only showing the kids' perspectives) further gives The Visit very much the feel of some kind of dark modern fairytale.
|"Thank god, we are making a documentary here."|
Albeit that the feel of unnerving mystery is very well pulled off as a whole in The Visit, the script is anything but perfect. Aside from the mysteries around the farm being shoved in a bit too fast into the story's progress, the dialogue is a big mish-mash of hit and miss. With that said, for every effectively emotional dialogue bit or scary scene in the movie, there are just as many instances where the scenes and dialogue feel quite forced, cheesy or unbelivable. Most notably in some occasions, the two kids, Tyler and Becca, don't really act according to their age but more like two (dumb) adults. It's nothing too terrible to destroy the immersion of being with them on the spooky farm, but it can occasionally get pretty distracting when Tyler is once again busting out another one of his cringworthy raps (yeah...he raps) which don't fit his character at all and have no impact on the story whatsoever. However, the script and child actors have to be given credit for convincingly pulling off the more humorous scenes in the movie.
|Expectedly, the child actors are at their best when they can be themselves.|
The movie's horror elements on the other hand start off very strong but lose their shock value quite a bit after the twist is revealed since they tend to more and more decline into horror movie clichees that we have seen a hundred times already.
It only goes to show that The Visit's strongest parts happen to be when we actually don't see but only hear what happens after 9:30 pm when the kids aren't allowed to leave their room. Imagination and uncertainty run wild in those scary segments which somewhat expectedly though take a backseat after the explaining twist towards the end, since there is no mystery involved anymore. Thus, there are still horror scenes present even after the twist, yet they are simply not as impressive anymore as before.
But what about the notorious Shyamalan twist that happens to be in every single one of his movies?
Well, The Visit's build-up happens much stronger than the actual payoff or twist the movie offers. While it's a mostly unexpected albeit straightforward kind of twist, there is a chance that the viewer can maybe feel a bit disappointed after seeing it. While the twist definitely has a shock factor to it that changes the whole situation of the kids on the farm around and amps up the tension considerably, it's easy to feel a bit underwhelmed by it. This is mostly due to the fact that it doesn't take a whole lot of thinking to notice one or two plot points that remain mainly unexplained and don't quite add up to the final twist or the big picture.
|The Visit is easily Shymalan's most horror oriented movie.|
Child actors Olivia DeJonge as Rebecca and Ed Oxenbould as Tyler overall do an okay job together in making for a likable lead of two protagonists. Though it takes a while to get used to their humor and YouTube-way of doing the documentary and talking into the camera constantly, it eventually won't be as annoying as one would think at first. While there are definitely better kids actors out there and none of the two are quote un-quote "good actors", in the end they get the job done - barely.
Of the two however, Olivia DeJonge definitely is the stronger actor. Both her emotional as well as horror focussed scenes come off leagues more believable than the ones of Ed Oxenbould/Tyler. While Olivia actually manages to make good use of different convincing facial expressions throughout the movie and at least visibly tries to make for a very good scene, Ed Oxenbould leaves much to be desired.
Sure enough, both child actors are visibly way more comfortable in the movie playing the comedic scenes, it's Ed Oxenbould as Tyler who always seems to struggle to pull off a convincingly "scared" little boy. He always seems to have a "stay cool" attitude to him even in the scary scenes of the movie which hamper the effect of said scenes quite a bit sometimes. Especially in the final act when we get a close up shot of his supposedly scared face, you can definitely see how he has to pull himself together to not laugh or smirk into the camera which really is a no-go - both for the actor as well as director Shyamalan who still went with that shot.
|Keep on working on your "scared face".|
For as much of a mish-mash the child actors in The Visit are, it's safe to say that actress Deanna Dunagan as grandma Paula Jamison almost single handedly manages to pull up the entire acting in the movie.
Despite the fact that, as already said, the mysteries surrounding the farm are introduced a bit too quickly in the story, her varied and unpredictable performance more than makes up for it. Unfortunately, i can't talk a whole lot about her character here without spoiling too much. Nevertheless though, it can be said that Deanna Dunagan manages to elevate and hold up the entire horror in the movie with her performance, whereas accompanying actor Peter McRobbi as grandpa John Jamison is pretty much responsible for the "mystery" part of the story. Thus, both actors work together really well and represent different aspects of the entire horror-thriller construct the farm itself holds in the story.
Overall, The Visit is a flawed but respectably enough entertaining thriller with distinct horror elements from director M. Night Shyamalan, that grants him back a fraction of the big respect we once so dearly had for him.
While The Visit is far away from reconstructing the promising career that once seemed so guaranteed for him, Shyamalan for the most part dared to enter new ground with The Visit. It's definitely the most horror oriented movie in his filmography yet and further distances itself from his comfort zone by telling the entire story through a found footage style. However, even though both protagonist child actors don't manage to come off as consistently convincing, The Visit nevertheless does great in outweighing this problem by very quickly and effectively immersing the viewer into the increasingly twisted situations on the farm. Unnerving and shocking mystieries on the farm are very well showcased through the found footage recordings that always let the viewer only witness everything through the kids' point of view. It's therefore easily said, that The Visit feels very much like a dark, modern Grimm fairytale.
Topped off with very haunting performances by granparent actors Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie, The Visit sure is quite a few blocks away from being a thriller masterpiece or anything, but considering how much fun it is to get scared by its horror scenes and how entertaining it is to keep guessing what the twist is, The Visit's sheer simple entertainment value will most probably make it worth a watch for most viewers despite its flaws.
Final Verdict: 6 out of 10