The Visit isn’t perfect, but it isn’t The Happening either. And that’s good.
Make a couple of very good movies, fall into a rut, and watch all of America turn against you like your very existence is a crime against humanity. Make another movie with a substantially lower budget than your recent projects, defy low expectations, and suddenly America is explaining on your behalf why your rut wasn’t your fault.
That’s basically what’s happening to M. Night Shyamalan right now and it’s a reaction that might be entirely justifiable – I’m just not qualified to judge. See, I have to admit a dirty little secret, which is that I haven’t seen a fair amount of Shyamalan’s work. I haven’t seen Unbreakable, which is apparently one of his best films, but I also haven’t seen The Village, Lady in the Water, and any of his recent films other than After Earth (oh god).
In a sense, I suppose this gives me a unique position, in that I’m not truly tainted by his allegedly awful projects. Indeed, while The Happening and After Earth are still burned into my brain, so are all the frightening and eerie moments from Signs. And while I don’t remember a whole lot from The Sixth Sense, I do know it was quite good.
So call this what you will: I like to think of this review as something that will be maybe the most objective thing you’re going to read about Mr. Shymalan – especially in this day and age where his name is synonymous with flimsy movie twists and inexplicable moviemaking decisions.
Let’s get started already, for Shakira’s sake.
There were three cuts of The Visit prepared: one that was pure comedy, one that was pure horror, and one that mixed both. The version that saw theatrical release combines humor and horror and it’s debatable whether that was a good idea.
One could argue it’s perhaps the most realistic, because it makes sense that two teenagers would naturally be funny and lighthearted when they’re visiting their grandparents for the first time. And the balance between the humor – especially that of Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) – and the horror is done relatively well.
But I’ve heard gripes from some of my peers that The Visit would have worked better if it embraced the horror aspect, instead of giving us relief from the various creepy scenes scattered throughout the film. I can agree with that. In a way, The Visit is comparable to one of Shyamalan’s better works and one of my favorite creepy movies: Signs.
Both use humor, both are obviously quite frightening at times, and both utilize this overarching theme of family and this idea of a father’s impact on that family. But I would argue Signs is a superior film, even with the fallacy of aliens deathly allergic to water invading a planet covered with it., and even with the religious symbolism that was perhaps unnecessary.
Simply put: The Visit is too funny for its own good. Tyler is absolutely hilarious and if I ever have a son, I hope he turns out like this little stud muffin who raps, replaces curse words with celebrity names, and lays out the boom like Ronnie Lott or Steve Atwater. But all that humor dulls the knife that would be pretty sharp otherwise.
The grandparents are magnificently portrayed by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie and while I won’t spoil anything, they do a fine job at least covering the twist before it gets revealed near the end of the film. Dunagan in particular is a marvel to look at, as she goes from doting grandma to knife-wielding lunatic who runs around naked and asks people to climb inside the oven (for “cleaning” purposes).
The Visit is, at its core, a psychological thriller that tricks you into thinking it’s something else. That is where Shyamalan’s forte has always been and he does it very well in this movie. But again: the movie is just too funny and most of the creepy parts were covered pretty cohesively by the trailers.
That’s why Signs is a better film. The humor is almost nonexistent while the scary moments are borderline traumatizing. While The Visit has some disturbing moments, they’re mostly jump scares or things you’ve seen in other movies.
Also, this is technically a found footage film, only it’s supposed to be a documentary made by Tyler’s older sister, Becca (Olivia DeJonge), who is an aspiring filmmaker. There are moments when that fact is not applied in terms of continuity, and some sharp viewers have noted that as a problem.
All in all, The Visit is okay. It’s certainly not horrible and M. Night Shyamalan is a good enough director that there’s a sense of tension throughout that does get influenced by the humor for better or for worse. I think it’s a step in the right direction for Shyamalan and I hope his future projects follow a similar path.