Note to the reader: I always try and leave out spoilers in my review, but you may guess M. Night Shyamalan’s signature dumb twist from my review (I guessed it ten minutes into the film and it’s a staple of his films so I’m not spoiling the fact that it’s in there). Therefore, reader discretion is advised.
M. Night Shyamalan was once one of the most promising new directors in Hollywood. His debut film, The Sixth Sense is still regarded as one of the best suspense thrillers of modern times. His later works however include such awful films such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Happening and After Earth. With a reputation so tarnished by big budgets, when I heard that Shyamalan was going back to a low-budget thriller I was actually thinking, “This could be a return to form”. Does The Visit mark the often maligned director’s transition back into the forefront of Hollywood?
The Visit stars Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie and is directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film follows siblings Becca (DeJonge) and Tyler (Oxenbould) as they go visit their elderly grandparents for a week for the first time.
The short answer to the question I asked at the end of the introduction is no. No, The Visit does not show us that Shyamalan is a good horror director. It doesn’t even show us that he is a competent director. The Visit shows a writer/director that has moved from an outside auteur with a new approach to storytelling to a man so high on his own hubris he cannot tell when his own creations are cinematic abominations. Nobody wants to hear that their work is bad, but someone needs to tell Shyamalan straight to his face that he is not destined to become a filmmaker, slowly take the camera off him and move him away from whatever film set he is on.
The film, like many horror films recently uses found footage to tell its story. The eldest sibling, Becca, is an aspiring film director, so at least the film has a coherent reason for looking the way it does, rather than the usual reason of “we have no money, so this is the best we can do.” This sadly falls apart pretty soon, as there are some scenes when all characters are in frame, but the camera is still following them, showing that Shyamalan couldn’t even stick to a single style of filmmaking, instead just deciding to make the camera a floating deity in the middle of the scene.
As well as directing, M. Night Shyamalan also has a writing credit on the film. And just like his ability to direct a film, the writing falls flat at every turn. The Visit is filled with several “jokes” that would make even the most easily amused man in the world groan at the sheer idiocy on display. Along with the tired jokes are several pop culture references which even now are starting to feel a bit dated, such as a protracted dig by the younger brother Tyler at One Direction. Tyler is also a wannabe-rapper, who at several moments in the film turns to camera and starts to rap. It’s incredibly cringe-worthy to watch, and feels like Shyamalan thought “Rap music is what the children love these days, let’s put it in!” The young actor even raps over the end credits, in a bid to beat Mickey Rourke’s rap at the end of Rogue Warrior as the most out-of-place rap in the history of the world.
The worst writing in the film though is how the two elderly characters are written. Remember the film Ruth and Alex that came out a few months ago? (It’s alright if you didn’t, it wasn’t that good). That film’s central idea was “Screw young people”. The Visit has the opposite idea, and views elderly people as horrible. Small common quirks of senior citizens, as well as how they try and keep their dignity while trying to live without assistance is exploited in the film to no end, including a supposed big dramatic scene involving a used adult diaper. The beginning of the film, both the elderly characters are lovely and friendly, but the film changes tone so quickly that the final reveal of the secret about the house and its inhabitants has no build up.
The majority of the apparent scares in the film come from the odd behaviour of the grandparents, which makes the film seem a little bit ageist for the sake of scares. The rest of the scares are of the loud bang variety, which become tiresome and annoying after the first one since you can see them coming from a mile off. During these moments I would put a hand in front of my eyes and look at the floor, not through a sense of the film being scary, but because I didn’t want to be agitated by the film drawing out a sense of danger.
I hate being startled, it don’t seek it out for entertainment. Some readers might be thinking, “But that’s what you get from a horror film,” but that’s not true. Films like When A Stranger Calls, Psycho or The House At The End Of Time, they know how to create a sense of fear equal or greater to The Visit but they don’t signpost it, making the scares better. Even when these three films do jumps scares, they are complemented by another type of horror, be it a sense of isolation (When A Stranger Calls) or an upending of movie tropes (Psycho). These films know how to scare right, The Visit just tries to startle you when it can.
In summary, you should not watch The Visit. I would maybe only recommend it if you’re an aspiring film director and you wanted a great example of an absolute mess of a film, but that is a very big MAYBE.
Score: 1/10 A very good contender for worst of the year.