Synopsis – A single mother finds that things in her family’s life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents.
My Take – In recent years, director M. Night Shyamalan has become kind of a joke, unfortunate but true. After a brilliant start to his career with films like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and to some extend Signs & The Village, his films (along with his career) went spiraling down with Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender & the final nail in coffin, the Will Smith starrer After Earth. Even for a fan like me, I had to admit he had lost his signature touch. What worked in his favor was his superb work on the small screen in the form of the excellent 2015 mini-series Wayward Pines – which made me believe that deep down inside Shyamlan‘s heart still resides a true artist, and not some lazy hack who tackles big-budget flops just to get paychecks from the studio. His recent talk in interviews about gaining back artistic control of his products was another positive step in Shyamalan‘s long path to cinematic forgiveness. And the good news is, this small film in which he combines found footage horror with comedy is his redemption! Yes, M. Night Shyamalan is back! This film is the first in a resurgence of great films from the most controversial director in the business. Though there are plenty of laughs and screams to be had, the film is also filled with surprising moments of drama. There are, at the very least, three genuinely beautiful scenes. One of those involves a zoom in of a certain character, and it’s utterly heartbreaking. Of his whole body of work, this might be one of the best showpiece to demonstrate his genre-less eclecticism that includes genuinely hilarious dark laughs, piercingly effective suspense and in-your-face, yet disturbingly suggestive scares & well-deserved drama that is of Shyamalan‘s usual frankness, but also surprisingly true and sincere, and not contrived-feeling.
The heavily-used found footage device seems to suit really well his sense of post-modernism, and the way he seamlessly combines the method with his usual, dream-like way of framing shots anyhow, works a charm. It’s almost like the overused trope was just dying to fall into his hands, because, all I can say, is that it really, really does work for him. Besides the trademark Shyamalan twist, which actually works here and seems reasonable in hindsight, the extremely self-aware script and the very natural and authentic brother-sister relationship between both co-leads, lends further credence to Shyamlan‘s pet project. You can see that he cared for the characters, and you can also easily remember that this is a director who made a reputation for himself because he managed to facilitate such an emotional and iconic performance out of then-11-year-old Haley Joel Osment, so obviously he’s good with kids.The story follows 15-year-old Rebecca “Becca”(Olivia DeJonge) and 13-year-old Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) who decide to visit their grandparents in Pennsylvania (Deanna Dunagan & Peter McRobbie), in order for their recently divorced mother Paula Jamison (Kathryn Hahn) to spend time with her new boy friend Miguel. Paula is reluctant to let the kids stay with their grandparents while she goes on a cruise with Miguel. Yet, Becca and Tyler want to see the grandparents they never met before. Rebecca decides to document the trip with her camcorder (which ever so conveniently sets the movie up in the popular found footage sub-horror genre – but also opens a wide crack for endless jokes and self-aware nods towards the unsuspecting audience). In addition to her desire to craft a compelling documentary, Rebecca wants to interview her grandparents and extract information from them regarding why they no longer have a relationship with Paula. From the moment they reach, something never seems right. It’s difficult to say much about the story without revealing too much, because the film is essentially the type of film where it’s better the less you know going in. It’s not to say the film is filled with plot twists left and right, but how cleverly it subverts expectations, especially based on the film’s misleading marketing campaign. It’s downright hilarious (intentionally so) during a majority of the film but also equally scary and creepy, which is what M. Night is known for. I was laughing hysterically and screaming, sometimes at the same time!
The success of the film is how effectively it jumps in between the two genres and frequently on the dime. The third act showcases this in the best possible way and in full Shyamalan fashion. In classic Shyamalanian style, there are a lot of themes explored in the film” regarding– overcoming irrational fears, letting go of anger and pride, and confessing secrets that prevent us from being ourselves. When it comes to Shyamalan, a thriller is never just a thriller. But in every instance, every moment of sincerity is coupled with anti-pretentious bouts of comic relief. The film takes itself precisely as seriously as it should. The failure or success of the film might be entirely dependent on viewers’ capacity to depart from what they’ve already made up in their minds this movie to be. Shyamalan has done much more to progress modern cinema than he has to deface it. Credit must be given to Shyamalan who manages to get great performances from his actors, a welcome change after the stilted and wooden performances in his last few films. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play the leads, and they’re completely likable in their roles. Oxenbould, in particular, steals every scene he’s in, providing many of the film’s biggest laughs. Seriously, the jokes in here are funnier than most comedies released these days. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are also rightfully creepy as the kids’ offbeat grandparents. Last but not least, Kathryn Hahn leaves a great impression, despite the limited screen time she has. She’s truly wonderful here. Overall, The Visit is ridiculously entertaining and a total crowd pleaser. It’s the film we were all hoping for Shyamalan to make to get him out of the slump. No, it’s not as great as his first four films, but it’s a step towards the right direction. Recently, it’s been revealed that he’ll reunite with producer Jason Blum and Joaquin Phoenix for a new project. If it’s another low budget feature like The Visit, which it most likely will be, we might be witnessing an era of greatness. Shyamalan still has the genius in him to make genuinely engaging films–given that he has complete control of the creative process from start to finish.
Director – M. Night Shyamalan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 94 minutes