Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, and Kathryn Hahn
There is no question. Lots of folks are eyeballing this opening to see what color smoke is going to come out of the chimney, er oven. Coming off a pretty dismal summer for both films and television, Wayward Pines was certainly a break out for the director. But, that has been a loooong time coming. Obviously, The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), The Village (2004) were all relative successes at the box office. Lady in the Water (2006) was less than buoyant and was the frontrunner in the dismal offerings that Shyamalan has been putting out since. The exception to this campaign has been the recent foray into television. (Umm… maybe that is that the “sign”!)
Here’s what M. Night does well… he is a quirky storyteller who is very adept at weaving his tales with a breadcrumb trail. Well, The Visit is certainly one of those. What’s different this time is that he is leading us down the comedy path instead of the viewer accidentally landing there. The film recounts the story of two teenagers, Becca and Tyler, visiting their estranged grandparents for the first time at their mother’s childhood home. The teens are excited to see where their mother grew up. Becca is the eldest and is an aspiring filmmaker. She hopes to document this visit and help to heal the rift between her mother and grandparents. Tyler is 13 and a wannabe rapper, so he’s along for the ride. Things are fine at first and then all these rules are introduced. The situation gets decidedly weirder as they spend more time getting to know their grandparents.
The film is viewed from the guise of the documentary. At first, I thought that this might be constraining, but it actually accentuates some of the more thrilling moments in the film, and is an appropriate plot mechanism to elevate the suspense. All in all, the film delivers on some legitimate belly laughs and frights. Nanna and Pop Pop are sufficiently strange, but also quite pathetic as you understand the underlying reasons why they are the way they are. The film does grab from the get go. There is no shortage of tension building and little background music is used so as to build anticipation and emphasize the thrills. I did get the sense that The Visit doesn’t quite know what it wants to be when it grows up. Is it a horror movie? Is it a comedy? Is a blend of the two? Or a mystery? All in all, I found that a lack of cohesive theme or defined genre detached me from the film. Some expository scenes that I’m sure were intended to be creepy, came off as cornball. Due to the kids’ antics, I found myself laughing at some parts, yet feeling bad about it. What I found most disappointing were the elements just there for the shock(some nudity) or gross out, which I thought was unusual for this director. He could have used other means to convey a similar message. Over all, this film as a whole is less than the sum of it’s parts.
I loved The Sixth Sense where Shyamalan combined compelling characters with an intriguing story arc. There was genius in taunting the viewer with cryptic clues leading up to the surprising conclusion. I think that The Visit aspires to the previous successes, but it falls quite short. In this case, trying to do too much is the downfall here. I would rather have seen a horror movie with laughs or a comedy with some jump-scares. Like mixing vinegar and oil, you can certainly shake these two genres until they blend, but soon enough they disconnect again into disjointed components. The weirdness just isn’t adequate to fuse these together.
Cindy says: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2 stars out of 5. I think that the signs of life are there, but this effort is not up to the caliber of his earlier films. Some parts are well done, but my recommendation to Shyamalan is to play to his strengths. By all means, this is worth a look see if you are a fan, or thought the teasers intriguing, as it is a lot more of the same. It’s odd and pretty light fare overall, considering the type of film, but be mindful that the PG-13 rating seems warranted.
Recommendations: If you are an M. Night fan, drag out The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable or even Signs, which is a personal favorite. All have great characters and well crafted plots with surprises and twists.