So…this is a joke, right?
The Visit is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest farce, perpetrated on the spoon-fed audiences of America. It sells itself as a serio-comic, “modern” horror film: think Insidious meets Paranormal Activity. The problem comes from the fact that Shyamalan believes himself to be more intelligent than the viewer and pompously flaunts what he perceives is his great cinema prowess. Frankly, he’s a tool. You and I both know it –- this is the guy who still swears we did not “get” The Happening. (#eyeroll) Maybe it is inappropriate to attack a director thusly; however, Shyamalan’s complete lack of respect for those who sit in the seats bothers me to the very core of my film-loving heart. And the saddest thing of all: it’s going to work.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) care so much for their single, struggling mother (Kathryn Hahn – utterly wasted) they convince her to let them stay for a week with grandparents they’ve never met so she might go on a cruise with her new boyfriend. See, Mom walked out on her parents years before to chase an older man across the country, and she has not spoken to nor seen them since. Becca decides to chronicle the whole thing because she is…wait for it…an inspiring filmmaker (le sigh); little bro Tyler is an aspiring rap artist, a lyrical acrobat with a precocious personality played for laughs. Nana and Pop Pop (ugh) seem the sweet, welcoming couple that fill the children with home-cooked meals and compliments — that is, until Pop Pop informs the kiddos that bedtime around the house is 9:30PM…and strange things begin to occur after dark.
I applaud any filmmaker who believes so strongly in his work that he puts his money where his mouth is, and that is just what Shyamalan did here. The five million-dollar budget was all out of pocket. Unfortunately, I doubt it was in service of the art. Rumor has it the director cut three alternative versions of the film and just stuck with the one he felt worked the best. But doesn’t that means there was no real vision in the first place? My thought is the Sixth Sense auteur recognized the opportunity in producing a films in the found footage or mockumentary genre and just played it for the green. (That’s slang for: he took your money!) Nothing about this story makes any sense: why would a mother send her children to another state to people she has not seen in fifteen years without accompanying them – even if they are her parents! Why would she not phone and speak to the parents? (She only ever Skypes with her children, on a malfunctioning computer, no less.) If the grandparents are so creepy, why do things take so long to develop? Though I beg you to keep your sanity and not divulge Shyamalan’s ego by purchasing tickets to the film, I will not spoil any more of the story — but trust me, there are more mind-boggling questions to go along with the continued “suspense” and “horror.”
The characters are just…so….darned…ridiculous. Mom is a poor representation of the Toni Collette character from The Sixth Sense; Tyler resembles a real child about as much as Tom Brady resembles Honest Abe. And then there’s Becca. Oh Lord, Becca. She spends the whole film spouting Intro To Filmmaking 101 terms like mise en scene, denouement, and focal length. Just in case you missed it, Shyamalan went to NYU. (I swear I know a charming, lovely, filmmaker/reviewer who went there, too. Who was that girl?…) Anyhow, unless the point was Shyamalan attempting to lampoon himself, I’m not buying it. He wanted You to know that he knew what he was doing. Tool. DeJonge and Oxenbould try hard, and Deanna Dunagan & Peter McRobbie (Nana and Pop Pop) play the middling material on its face, but it only emphasizes how glaringly misguided the whole project is. The Visit is alternately boring-when-meant-to-be-funny, or funny-when-meant-to-be-scary. Everyone falls short in this poor excuse for a wasted afternoon.
I’d like to speak on the cinematography, however I must confess that I find shaky “found footage” films to be inherently lazy. That is not to say they cannot be insightful or well-made — see: Chronicle or, if you’re generous, The Blair Witch Project – they’re just not my cup of tea. Shyamalan sticks to typical horror tropes like “Look at the stuff behind the door!”, “Don’t go in there!”, “There’s something behind you in the mirror!”, or “Wow, that woman looks creepy!”, but if you like that sort of thing…no, not even then. This movie is still probably not for you.
James Wan (Saw, Insidious) helped re-invent the throwback, Gothic-creepy horror genre, with a streak of black humor that would make Vincent Price grin. The reason that Wan’s films work over The Visit is simple: he trusts the audience enough to present that humor in an authentic way. Everything is a bit weird, a bit off, so that each viewer can both connect with the characters and embrace the uncomfortable feelings the images illicit. M. Night instead presents ludicrous moments of attempted levity that are neither genuine nor actually funny. You almost feel sorry for his attempt. Almost.
And then there’s the twist. There had to be a twist. This one is entirely predictable, nausea-inducing, and juvenile, which means it’s completely unnecessary. Dementia is scary, especially when seen through the eyes of a child. What a sophisticated, frightening topic that might have been! M. Night: You are not James Wan, or Wes Craven. You are certainly not Kubrick. Your strength has historically lay in your ability to present the terror of the unseen, to build suspense out of silences, out of what we fear might be behind the door. Play to your skills, man!
Grade: F. And yet, this is not even Shyamalan’s worst film. Again: are we sure this isn’t a joke?