Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge, Peter McRobbie, Deanna Dunagan, Celia Keenan-Bolger
Rated: PG-13 (disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language)
Two siblings become increasingly frightened by their grandparents’ disturbing behavior while visiting them on vacation.
By Matt Greene
The Visit begins with the words “An M. Night Shyamalan Film” plastered on the screen. Based on his recent track record, I was worried this proclamation may end up being the scariest part of the film. Luckily, the infamous filmmaker has taken a step back in the right direction with his most purely horror film to date. Sure, his propensity for hackneyed exposition and odd dialogue hasn’t disappeared completely, but they are accompanied by some truly original horror images, shot with an immense skill for effectively terrifying timing. The Visit is a decent little creep-show that’s a shocking return-to-form for Shyamalan.
This success is largely thanks to its narrow scope: two teens must spend a week with their grandparents who are growing increasingly strange. We never really leave the home of the elderly couple, allowing the unique scares to be at the center. These thrills are effectively eye-covering, but what makes them fun is their ability and intention to cause laughter as quickly as screams. Some of that humor exudes straight from the jokes in the scares, but much of it is just an acknowledgment of having been tricked. The spookily exaggerated performances may be a turn-off for some, but they enhance the simultaneous feeling of dread and silliness that make this film work.
That balance is where The Visit works best, but when it tries to reach deeper it falters. Luckily, Shyamalan rarely let’s his ambitions get in the way of the scary good times. With some truly unforgettable moments and a heart-dropping reveal, this small-scale chiller reminds us why we fell in love with this guy.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
Director M. Night Shyamalan’s career trajectory looks a little bit like a majestic bird who’s been shot out of the air. He soared at the top of his career with successes “The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”, “Signs”, and “The Village”, but his streak since “Lady In the Water”, “The Happening”, “The Last Airbender”, and “After Earth” doesn’t inspire confidence.
“The Visit”, the low-budget handheld camera/faux documentary horror film wherein siblings visit their grandparents may be the most unique in his filmography because of its mediocrity. He displays neither the commanding skill of his early films nor the pretentious bore of his more recent work.
What sets it apart from all of his films is its humor. Even his best films were completely void of humor, but “The Visit” is a comedy. It’s a weird, funny, slightly askew angle on small-town America. It’s more in line with the work of David Lynch (“Blue Velvet”, “Twin Peaks”) than Shyamalan. It takes a bit to settle into the film’s rhythms, but occasionally the humor really works.
What doesn’t set it apart is its third act twist and forced emotional drama. As soon as the predictable (in)famous Shyamalan twist comes into play, “The Visit” becomes a familiar, trope-filled haunted house tale and the groove that the audience finds itself in halfway through gets interrupted by a reach for emotional pull. All of a sudden there is a grief/forgiveness overtone hovering among every scene. All of the weird fun then becomes tainted by inescapable pandering.
Unfortunately, for all the things Shyamalan does right, he matches himself with what he does wrong. This works as both a description of “The Visit” and of Shyamalan’s schizophrenic career.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars