This is the latest film to be directed by M Night Shyamalan, and to be honest with you I’m surprised this man has a career, let alone a new movie coming out. Shyamalan has made tons of rubbish in the past, a lot of people like Signs, but personally I never really got into it, The Village was awful and Lady In The Water was really arrogant, those were bad but it was the three films which he made between 2009 and 2010 which really sealed his fate. Not only did he make The Happening which was probably one of the dumbest and most idiotic horror films I have ever seen, he also produced Devil, which took a brilliant concept and ruined it by adding several supernatural elements that weren’t necessary and a plot twist which made absolutely no sense, and if that wasn’t enough, he took one of my favourite cartoons with Avatar and adapted it into the god awful Last Airbender movie, which on every level cemented Shyamalan’s name being a joke!!! He later returned in 2013 to direct After Earth, which was terrible, but I can’t fully blame him as it was very clear that this was a Will Smith vanity project for his son and that he was clearly just a hired gun.
I went into this film thinking that this was never going to succeed, especially as the trailers really didn’t win me over. I would also argue that this is one film to really skip, but I decided this was probably the film I wanted to review because this was the first time that Shyamalan had complete creative control since The Last Airbender, considering in this film he has both written the screenplay and directed the film.
The plot of this film is that two kids, Becca and Tyler (played by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) go to visit their grandparents (played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) for the first time, after their mother (played by Kathryn Hahn) had a falling out with them several years ago after leaving them to marry their father who has subsequently divorced her. The kids go to their remote house in the middle of Pensylvania. They start to have a good time, however, their grandparents warn them they are not to leave their room after 9.30, but after they start breaking that rule they notice that there is something terribly wrong with their grandparents. It was kind of good to see Shyamalan return to horror, this is definitely where his bread and butter lies and it makes sense that he will be better at this than directing action films, which is where his last two movies lay. But Shyamalan is also tackling un-chartered territory with this film, because this film is a found footage movie, which is a very difficult thing to do. I am going to get away from the plot briefly to discuss this since the found footage aspect of this film is where I think this film fails the most. Now granted the plot does give a decent reason for the characters to be recording everything with their cameras, however Shyamalan clearly doesn’t understand the found footage concept fully and as a result he ends up cheating it several times making you wonder why this film wasn’t just shot as a straight horror film, I don’t think it would have been any the worse for it. By cheating, I don’t mean that he gets several camera angles he couldn’t possibly get or that he creates several edits that couldn’t possibly be edited together, the film’s ending makes it very clear on that point. It’s not like The Gallows where it’s meant to be police evidence, the kids are making a documentary for their mother. The downside is the sound. Because this is a found footage there are several lines of dialogue that they couldn’t possibly pick up that get picked up and there are pictures on the screens like the skype conversations that they have with their mother couldn’t look and sound as good as they do. Shyamalan also gets several shots that clearly haven’t been recorded on either of the kids cameras! How are they getting this footage and editing it into the documentary? That being said, however, of the four found footage movies I have seen this year, the others being The Gallows, Project Almanac and the previously reviewed Unfriended, this one at least knows what it wants to be and has some decent characters and acknowledges it’s a movie. The characters really work in this film for the most part, to the sense of, they are not dumb characters like most horror films tend to bring out, they are at least smart and somewhat competent. The downside is that they do tend to fall into a lot of the Shyamalan traits of having hokey dialogue and more quirks replacing actual character, luckily Shyamalan has managed to tone it down a lot for this. He still has characters talk into the camera way too often, but at least the found footage gimmick allows there to be some excuse for that. There is, however a major disadvantage from its outset that most of its first 15-20 minutes are largely exposition as in the characters never stop expositing about the plot. Fortunately Shyamalan has learnt his lesson from the Last Airbender and this is not the entirety of the characters dialogue and we do get some character out. The grandparents have to be appropriately creepy and Shyamalan nearly gets this right on a lot of his ideas of what to do with the found footage gimmick. The downside is, he doesn’t get it right all the time, and this is a horror film that will have you laughing a lot more than you will be scared! My cinema screening was almost full and we laughed a lot more than we ever got frightened. Most of the scares are jump scares which I have said time and time again, jump scares aren’t scary they are just startling! This one, however, actually does build up tension and atmosphere and some of the night scenes are fairly decent. A couple of these scenes start when they hide the camera downstairs to get some of the footage of their grandmother at night which are really creepy, I am not getting that image of her in front of the camera out of my head! When she discovers the camera, the tension builds as to whether she will just outright kill the grandkids. The film will keep you also very invested. I was invested to see where this plot was going, and really I knew it was in aid of a plot that wasn’t really working but it does build up enough questions which for the most part do receive some answers, However this is not entirely successful, how do I put this? This film does follow up a lot of Shyamalan’s traits that don’t really work and there are quite a few plot conveniences that tend to happen that do undermine the film, but for the most part it does build very well. Honestly it reminded me of a Goosebumps story a lot of the time
The plot, just doesn’t work as a whole, it nearly hits it on several moments and builds up intrigue, but the rest of the film just feels like a massive chore and we just want to get to the major plot points, and to be honest I really found the character of Tyler to be potentially annoying at times. Its major fault is really its dialogue. Shyamalan has never been a great dialogue writer and it’s not improved here. I really get a sense, especially in the first 20 minutes that he has never had a conversation with another human being, granted this has been a common criticism with most of his films but I would like to have thought that he would have improved by now. But for all this film’s faults, the dialogue being probably the worst aspect of the film, where this film truly succeeds is in its climax. My goodness this film has an excellent climax that builds tension perfectly and has some of the film’s scariest moments. As usual, Shyamalan has a plot twist here, lets face it, it’s a running joke that Shyamalan’s films have a plot twist in them and this film is no exception. However, unlike his previous films where the plot twist is idiotic and has actually undermined the film up to that point, this one actually rewards its viewers and rewards repeat viewings. The plot twist actually makes sense, not entirely, there are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered by the end of it, but I’m certain there are a lot of plot holes that a repeat viewing will get right, but for what it’s worth, it really does work. Which is a lot more than I can say for most of the previous plot twists especially the twists in films like The Village and Signs and especially The Happening! The grandparents are appropriately creepy but they also turn on enough charm to make you wonder how much is true in the kids heads, especially considering that the grandfather does offer some very reasonable and rational explanations to the audience.
The film’s trailer is kind of a lie on a lot of levels, it doesn’t really make that much sense what I mean by that, unless I spoil the plot, which I am aiming not to do because I do think this film does have something going for it, in fact it almost makes it past the finishing line. This plot almost fails on too many levels for it to really work completely for me. I’d like to believe this is Shyamalan being turned down by the producers of Insidious, but I am going to give him credit where it’s due because I think he has learn from a lot of his mistakes which the credits have been pointing out. Credit where credit is due, I didn’t come out of this film hating its plot like I was expecting to.
Now for the actors. There is not a lot to really talk about here considering that most of the time we are stuck with 4 people. The actors do a pretty decent job. Olivia DeJonge who is arguably the lead actress in this film does a decent job in her portrayal and sells both the fake documentary and the scenes where she is just holding the camera whilst acting normally with her brother. Honestly, I really think she does a pretty decent job and I wouldn’t mind seeing her go on to other films on the back of this. Ed Oxenbould is ok as Tyler, but I would hardly rate him that high, he suffers the most from Shyamalan’s direction in this film and I think on a couple of levels his character deserves a bit of a re-write. He plays a character with a germophobia but it’s only brought up a the beginning and plays a part in the middle portion of the film and at one point during the climax, but it just feels like a missed opportunity on a lot of levels. Plus whoever told this kid to rap I will personally track him down and subject you to my alarm clock at three in the morning as payback for having to listen to that!! His attempts at rapping are easily the worst part of the entire film and it doesn’t help that he is encouraged to do it over and over again. Peter McRobbie who many will remember from playing a judge in Law and Order as well as his roles in Lincoln and Brokeback Mountain will be happy to know he is similarly really good here. Considering how much Law and Order I watch I was worried that I would struggle to separate him out from the character, however, he hits his part fine and actually plays it very well selling the creepy nature. But if we are talking about creepy, Deanna Dunagan plays her role fantastically. Out of all the creepy characters in Shyamalan films she is by far the best in a long time and I think Shyamalan really hit his stride in his direction of her. I am never going to trust anyone over the age of 70 again after her performance, especially her scares when she is up close to the camera. I was watching it going please get this woman away from me!! the other characters are mainly playing throw away roles, for example Kathryn Hahn who appears to be doing a Lauren Dearn impression throughout most of the performance is rarely in the film except for interviews for the documentary being made and for various Skype chats whilst she is on holiday, these scenes are fairly decent enough but she doesn’t leave much of an impression. The same can be said for other people who do a decent job in this film, but they are barely on camera for that long. The only one who really leaves much of an impression is Celia Keenan-Bolger who plays a throw away role as a woman who comes to visit the grandparents who apparently helped her through her rehab, oh and as usual M Night Shyamalan does have a brief cameo in the movie, which is getting a bit annoying at this point, you are not Alfred Hitchcock!!
I think the cinematography and presentation section is going to be short in this review because I really got down most of my thoughts on the found footage gimmick in the early portions of the film and as I mentioned before, it doesn’t fully work and I think this film could have worked had it been a normal film, however Shyamalan does get the writing correct and he doesn’t do a terrible job with the found footage gimmick. In fact, the last portion of the film is where the found footage gimmick really pays off. The most major issue I have with most found footage films, is that they don’t tend to have an ending, this film does have an ending, unlike most films it doesn’t just stop and I am going to give Shyamalan credit for that. But flee the credits, for obvious reason, don’t stick around for the credits, anyone who has seen the movie will know what I mean!! (Not going to mention what it is to avoid spoiling the movie for those who haven’t seen it) The film does do excellent cinematography for the most part and I would argue that this is probably one of the best found footage films of a long time for its cinematography, however, this comes at a price, which as a result it has had to cheat with the found footage gimmick in order to get that, so it’s a double edged sword which has managed to stab Shyamalan in the back unfortunately. Also this film not only has the Universal logo, it also has the title card and opening credits so Shyamalan is not trying to suggest to shoot this as if this is for real, he’s clear from the start that this is just a movie and that also takes away from the found footage effect because it means we can’t separate out the fiction from the realistic camera footage.
I will never forgive M Night Shyamalan for The Last Airbender but I have to give credit where credit is due, The Visit is not an awful movie. I went in planning to hate it and I actually came out saying that this is at least a decent movie and I will stand by that. It doesn’t work as a whole, it fails too much on the found footage gimmick, the characters dialogue is terrible, the performances are pretty good, if a bit of a mixed bag and this film will elicit way more laughs than it will scares and I won’t say Shyamalan is back on form, but for all it’s worth this is probably on the whole Shyamalan’s best movie since Unbreakable and that’s mainly down to its plot twist that really supports the movie that came before it.
I wouldn’t recommend seeing this one in cinema, I’m not sure it’s really worth it and this is probably a rental as soon as it comes out on DVD, but for what it’s worth I would at least say it’s a half decent movie and it’s worth checking out on some level, mainly for the performance of Deanna Dunagan.
So what were your thoughts on The Visit? Was it M Night Shyamalan making his comeback or is he still completely off the rails. Let me know in the comments section or if you want to submit your own content to the site, such as poems, reviews of films you like/dislike, or book reviews, we will accommodate it. We are even looking for some Art Work, visit our how to submit section and I am sure we will get it sorted as soon as possible on our site.
Now I was going to ask my question for this week which was going to be
“What do you think is the worst M Night Shyamalan Movie?”
However I’m going to put that question to one side for now as I am about to go on my long holiday.
Unfortunately that does mean that there won’t be a review on the site until 9 October but I do feel I need some down time. However I still want to keep tabs on what is going on and I won’t have internet access for long periods of time and I need your help to figure out what to see on my return. So my question for this week is:
“What film that came out between 17 September and 1 October should I see?”
You can leave your answers in our comments section or if you have Twitter Tweet me at @atkinson_calvin with the Hash tag axiafilmsociety. You can pick, good or bad, I will promise to see the film which gets the most suggestions. There are a couple which should be discarded though and they are ‘Everest’ which I saw last Saturday at a special preview screening at Liverpool 1 and also please discard Dragon Ball Z Resurrection F because that is the first review when I get back. Please also discard ‘Legend’ as I have seen that. So any others will be welcome suggestions.
As I mentioned before the next review will be 9 October and is “Dragon Ball Z Resurrection F”. if you plan to see my review you will have to look it up on Manga UK’s website it’s only playing in select cinemas on 30th September and 2nd October mainly the Empire and Showcase cinema chains. Sorry I am away for so long but I will be back in full force until Christmas.
I thank everyone who reads my reviews and for supporting me. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of my reviews as I do.
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