Director M. Night Shyamalan funded this small and unique film himself to regain “creative control”. Honestly, it isn’t half bad!
To help their mother cope with a divorce and have fun with her life, two siblings go to spend a week living with their grandparents, the daughter attempting to film their experience to give their troubled mother some closure. But when they arrive, they find that their grandparents are… strange.
M. Night Shyamalan has perhaps the biggest career implosion in recent memory. His first major debut The Sixth Sense was a massive success, follow-ups Unbreakable, Signs and The Village are mostly successful, he was considered “The Next Spielberg”.
But public and critics alike started to bore of his screenplays relying on twist gimmicks, and Lady in the Water and The Happening virtually destroyed his career; people began to view him as a egotistical hack.
He went onto more traditional genre films and even franchise movies with The Last Airbender and After Earth… Yeah, no one wanted to watch a film with Shyamalan’s name attached after those.
The Visit feels like not so much a return-to-form for Shyamalan but in fact it is completely unique in his filmography. It is shot as a found-footage style film as the daughter Becca (something of a wannabe director) starts to make a documentary about her grandparents, but don’t misunderstand, this isn’t “A Shyamalan found-footage movie” in the bad sense, which would probably put most people off. It is probably the most legitimate found-footage film I’ve seen since REC or Paranormal Activity, due to its dedication to the genre; there’s no music and things are filmed only within reason.
The choice of doing a found-footage film even offsets it from the director’s other movies; there’s no stiff, slow pans or tracking shots, no weirdly out of place monologues. It feels refreshing.
Plus, the acting is good. Most found-footage movies suffer from being cheap productions with a lack of talent in front of the screen, but somehow Shyamalan has got a good set of actors for this movie. All of whom are relative newcomers, though their grandfather, Pop Pop, is played by Peter McRobbie who featured prominently in the recent Marvel Daredevil Netflix show. All do exceptional jobs as excitable kids and strangely homely grandparents.
It is by far a perfect movie though. There’s a moment when it strays too far into the sub-genre’s well established cliches, the young boy’s rapping is a little… unbearable (but I can totally see this as what a kid like him would do) and it is a terribly simple experience; it is only ninety minutes long.
But it definitely benefits from its sly self-awareness and surprisingly good setup (again, a rare thing in the sub-genre) it has a good sense of humour throughout that really makes your question if there is actually anything wrong. After all, the film is from the perspective of children, they don’t rightly know what they are experiencing. That said, there are some real creepy moments and at least two scares that did actually get me.
But, you have to be in the mood for it. People will either like it or hate it, and others will dismiss it outright because of Shyamalan’s body of work, unfairly. The Visit isn’t setting the world on fire, but I had fun with it mostly because I got the humour and the scares, and it is nice to see Shyamalan rise above the crippling weight of past mistakes.