Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has left behind the near-brilliance of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable to deliver a string of forgettable horror films/psychological thrillers leading up to his latest, The Visit. Shyamalan’s name can no longer sell a movie as audiences have been burned by one disappointing feature film after another. Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth sullied Shyamalan’s reputation, and The Visit does nothing to resurrect his brand.
The Visit follows teen siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) as they head off to visit their mom’s parents for the very first time. They know there was some sort of incident she won’t discuss that occurred almost 20 years earlier, but that’s all they know. The subject is completely off-limits and the only reason she’s even allowing them to visit her parents for a few days is because she’s going on a cruise with her boyfriend and Becca and Tyler insisted they’d be fine hanging out at their grandparents’ farm. Besides, they’ll have plenty to keep them occupied if the visit is boring. Becca’s an aspiring documentary filmmaker and Tyler’s a wannabe rapper who doesn’t mind being his sister’s interview subject or her backup camera man. Becca’s excited about the possibility of interviewing Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan), learning more about her mom’s childhood, and, hopefully, why they’ve been estranged for two decades.
The aspiring filmmaker setup means that The Visit is shot like a found footage film, with the camera work done by either Becca or Tyler. Fortunately, the camera work isn’t shaky (although it should be). Unfortunately, the idea that one of the teens is constantly filming even while being chased or while crawling away from an unknown threat in a confined space is not only improbable but also becomes unintentionally funny. If the camera’s dropped, it falls perfectly so as to frame the action. This camera has cat-like grace, always falling on its base and never breaking.
Also improbable and utterly ridiculous is the idea that a single mom (played by Kathryn Hahn) who’s close to and very protective of her kids would send them off on a train by themselves to visit two people they’ve never met far from home while she’s somewhere not easily reachable. Most mothers would be a tad bit worried about packing up their teens, even if their kids are intelligent and well mannered, and sending them off to stay with strangers. Continuing with the improbable setup, the grandparents’ home doesn’t have cell phone reception – a fact repeatedly pointed out – but it does somehow have Wi-Fi (even though neither Pop Pop nor Nana are ever seen on a computer and there’s no legitimate reason for Wi-Fi service to be in the house). And, of course, the signal is strong enough for Skyping without any buffering.
After witnessing their grandmother’s peculiar nighttime activity, Becca and Tyler are warned not to leave their bedroom after 9:30pm. They seem to take the warning in stride as well as the warning to never go in the basement. And even as their grandparents display increasingly bizarre behavior, Becca and Tyler seem more fascinated than frightened, despite the fact they don’t know these people and they’re in a remote location. They’re not scared and neither is the audience, in large part due to Shyamalan inserting far too much sophomoric humor. The Visit proves comedy isn’t Shyamalan’s thing. It also proves it’s time for Shyamalan to come up with a new schtick.
Shyamalan ultimately resorts to jump scares to try and spook the audience, but the film is desperately missing a sense of danger that’s needed to make those moments work. Becca’s not frightened when she’s asked to crawl all the way inside an oven (hasn’t she ever heard the story of Hansel and Gretel?), despite all of the weird things she’s observed Nana and Pop Pop do during their short visit. If she’s not scared, why should the audience be?
Horrible rather than horrifying, The Visit consists of a series of potential scares that never pay off. By the time the final act rolls around and the hope for a finale that would mark a return to early form for Shyamalan is dashed, you’re left feeling like a complete fool for believing that maybe this time things would be different. If anything, The Visit further solidifies the fact that Shyamalan’s lost his edge.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: September 11, 2015
Follow Us On: