Monday, September 14, 2015

Review: The Visit

by Adam Riske
Welcome back, M. Night Shyamalan!

The Visit is a messy movie -- an uneven hodgepodge of horror, comedy and drama -- but I liked it. At times I liked it a lot. It’s the work of a filmmaker who seems to be having fun for the first time in a long time. It also is the movie where you can tell a Shyamalan is getting his groove back after a string of misfires dating back to 2004’s The Village. In its place in his career, The Visit is a fascinating movie. I find myself rooting for Shyamalan based on his great work on The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs so I might be grading The Visit on a bit of a curve, but I can’t deny that the movie overall feels like a success and that’s rewarding to me. Hopefully the days of the writer-director giving the audience reasons to laugh at him are over.
The Visit tells the story of two young teenagers (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) who go to visit their grandparents (played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) for the first time and soon realize that all is not what it seems with their relatives. The story is told utilizing a found-footage conceit (the teenage girl fashions herself to be a documentary filmmaker), which is I assume was done to make the movie on the cheap (Shyamalan self-funded The Visit using his salary from directing After Earth). The strategy works for the most part. Interestingly, The Visit was made with three different cuts in mind: one played for comedy, one played for horror and one played for both. Though not confirmed, I think the version we’re getting is the last one.

The reason why I think The Visit works is because it effectively stages its scares and moments of suspense. This is a very creepy movie and scary in a fun way similar to something like The Conjuring. I had a couple of moments where I audibly gasped at a creepy development or groaned at one of the more gross-out ones. In being a spooky experience, The Visit works. But the movie goes for laughs quite often (most specifically with the young boy character named Tyler who is a 13 year-old white rapper) and I didn’t think any of that worked. Shyamalan has never been very adept at (intentional) comedy and I think The Visit would have been more effective if he played it as a straight horror movie instead of lightening up the tone with the occasional comedic bit. Then again, maybe the sense of fun I had during The Visit is peripherally related to the fact that the movie doesn’t take itself super seriously. It’s a conundrum. The Visit also attempts to be touching and dramatic at certain points and I didn’t think any of that worked as it has in something like Signs, although the lesson stated near the end of the movie is interesting in that it could signify a mantra Shyamalan is telling himself at this stage of the career. In the narrative, it doesn’t work.
The performances from the small cast deserve praise, specifically Dunagan and McRobbie as the grandparents. I liked how they approached their roles by basically walking a tight-rope between being scary and normal. DeJonge and Oxenbould are not as good as their co-stars but they’re likable and believable at acting like kids their age. The script writes them as very sympathetic, which helps their performances as well. They are not brats who we want to see have harm done to them. We want them to make it out of their perilous situation. But the real “star” of the movie is, of course, M. Night Shyamalan, who’s directing with confidence again. I have high hopes for his next movie if he can build on what works about The Visit. The writing is not as strong as his directing (it’s corny and stilted) and I hope this movie is him shaking off the cobwebs, so to speak, because when he’s hitting on all cylinders he can be a really emotionally effective writer.
The Visit comes as the kickoff movie for the fall season, and as a warm-up for the “good” movies to come it gets me excited. It’s the perfect movie for the pre-Halloween season and signifies an interesting stage in Shyamalan’s career. To draw a comparison to the late, great Wes Craven, The Visit might not be a Scream-level career resurgence, but it’s a worthy addition to the filmmaker’s filmography similar to something like Craven’s The People Under the Stairs. Give me one of those any day and I’m a happy moviegoer. I’m anxiously waiting to see if Shyamalan can turn the victory of The Visit into another winning streak even if his star never burns as bright as it did in the late '90s to early 2000s.


  1. It wasn't terrible - some decent jump scares, low gore (it is rated PG-13).

    The story was a bit weak and depended way too much convenience/coincidence to move forward - and not in the usual horror film manner, but in truly ridiculous, nonsensical ways to the point it was distracting. The "twist" was extremely predictable and didn't have a great pay off, but the reveal was nicely done.

    A few friends that have seen this have said they found it much scarier than M. Night's other films. They are obviously wrong, but I kind of get where they are coming from. Unlike his previous films, this one does attempt to be fully rooted in reality.

    1. SPOILERS..............................I gotta disagree with you on the twist. I thought it was one of the director's better ones. I didn't see it coming. I thought the reveal would be that they were aliens or pod people. I also don't think your friends are necessarily wrong about it being scarier than other Shyamalan movies. Which do you think is his scariest? For me, this might be it. Thanks for leaving a comment Nichole :-)

    2. Saw it yesterday and I second your review, Adam.
      It´s not the Shyamalan of Sixth sense, Unbreakable or Signs, but it´s a big step in the right direction after everything he made since The Village.
      And as much as I hate found footage and movie kids, in this case it worked good for me.
      I also didn´t see the reveal coming. I thought more of maybe a crazy cult or religious nonsense than what it turned out to be.
      Aside from some nitpicks I had more fun with this movie than I expected and that´s way more than I can say about M.Night`s last four films.

  2. Had a crazy week but finally got out to see The Visit tonight. I think I liked it a lot more than you. The humor really worked for me, but that may have been partly because it coming out of kids' mouths made it more endearing. I didn't find it scary, but it had some good suspenseful moments and really balanced the tension well with the comedic relief. I think if I'd known it was PG-13 going in I would have been less affected by the spooky stuff, though.

  3. There were three great scenes otherwise ruined by FF (seriously, there was absolutely no need) annoying kid (that kid is up there with Bob, I'm not kidding) and a "twist" that was unnecessary. The Grandma was awesome, the scene with the main girl being interviewed and affected by the brother's question about not looking in the mirror and some exterior shots were high points for me. It bums me out because the concept was there to make a truly interesting and downright terrifying film, instead, it was simply a forgettable film. The two running jokes were so bad I was cringing knowing when they were coming.


    What an awful Mom these two kids have. Seriously. Glad she was able to save them after the hairy chest contest.

    Pop stars for curse words - oh no. So this kid knows Shakira?

    His second "rap" I think he calls his "grandma" a Ho at the end. What the fuck? Btw - whoever wrote these rhymes knows nothing about MC-ing nor does the kid know anything about delivery either; for us that know, it completely sucks you out of the movie. The second time he "raps" I got up to make another drink.

  4. I loved this movie. I heard Patrick talking about how people are still making fun of M. Night's name on the latest podcast. It's completely racist and fucking stupid. What are you seven? No, seven year old wouldn't be that dumb. No disrespect but people have to get over the "twist" thing. People harp on that and it's just lazy. Oh, yeah...and the Happening is still fuckin great.

    1. I agree about the "twist" thing but the problem is that M. Knight has made himself synonymous with that and he has not tried to go away from it (Last Airbender is the exception I guess; haven't seen it) so it's kind of his fault. It appears he loves to write "twists".

  5. You are all idiots. This movie was first rate trash. M. Night Shame-on-You!

    1. I would gladly watch a movie that is "first rate trash." That's the best possible trash. Also, hilarious name pun, Bruce Vilanch.