Review: The Visit Proves That M. Night Shyamalan Needs To Stop Making Movies
Title: The Visit
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenwriter: M. Night Shyamalan
Principal Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, and Kathryn Hahn
Summary: A single mother finds that things in her family’s life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents.
The year is 1999 and the world is currently in the midst of talking about a movie called The Sixth Sense. They are united, in a way, as they talk about the head snapping twist ending of this movie and how director M. Night Shyamalan set up the punch line in such a great way. He followed it up by the even better Unbreakable, and the next great filmmaker seemed ready to take over the world. However, halfway through his third feature, Signs, the seams were beginning to show. After the one-two-three punch of The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening suddenly all of that potential was gone. Shyamalan has been trying to get it back, but this spectacular career flame out only brought us The Last Airbender, Devil (he didn’t direct it but he did write it), and After Earth. What was once a name you wanted attached to a project has been rendered a joke. Shyamalan isn’t on his third strike, he’s on his sixth, and I didn’t have high hopes that The Visit was going to change that.
The Visit is a tonal mess that seems to forget it is found footage and ultimately ends up a joke at the end, and not in the way that Shyamalan intended.
I’m going to save any discussion of the big twist at the end for the final paragraph because one of the many reasons I disliked The Visit is because of that twist and what it entails. However, one of the other reasons I did not like this movie is that it is yet another movie that confuses “jump scares” with “fear”. You can scare the most hardened person in the world if you manage to surprise them. That doesn’t make you a horror mastermind, it just means you have the element of surprise. There are a few moments of tension in The Visit but they don’t last long and aren’t taken advantage of . The biggest “scares” are jump scares which do not count. A good horror movie should have an overwhelming sense of dread the seems to sit on you like a physical presence. That is not present here.
There is also the fact that it is found footage for seemingly no real reason. Our main characters are Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). She is filming this first meeting with her grandparents as a documentary. She spends good portions of the movie explaining how they are going to shoot various scenes and she almost becomes the voice for Shyamalan to tell us how clever he is. I’m fortunate that I don’t get motion sickness, but the jerky camera and the way it flies around because this is a girl who doesn’t know how to hold a camera could easily make someone sick. There are plenty of shots that make zero sense as to why anyone is still holding a camera, and while it isn’t as laughable as Cloverfield it is bad. It jerks you out of the movie faster than the various cut away shots.
I apologize that I have to talk about the big twist ending but it is ultimately the thing that made the entire movie fall apart for me. This is a spoiler warning and if you’re really concerned with the ending then skip this final paragraph. So, the final twist is that after the grandparents continue to act more and more crazy and unhinged it is revealed that these aren’t really Becca and Tyler’s grandparents but two escaped mental patients. This twist is not hard to figure out since the way these people are acting is so over the top it makes no sense, and the movie points out on two different occasions that they aren’t showing up for their jobs and that is weird. It is about as subtle as a two by four to the face. Then there is the problem that I’m personally sick of this trope. We are going to set aside the fact that the least scary thing in the world is a crazy old person, but I have a family history of mental illness. There is so much stigma for people to get the help they need and movies like this do not alleviate this stigma but reinforce it. It is lazy writing and a twist that makes the entire movie yet another movie that paints the mentally ill as old, crazy people killing people.
The Visit is going to be a polarizing movie if listening to comments afterwards were any indications. Perhaps my connection to the nature of the twist made me dislike it more, but it was a horror comedy that was not scary nor funny. I’m not sure who keeps letting Shyamalan make movies but, for the sake of dignity (if Shyamalan has any left), he needs to walk away for good.