December 31, 2015

The Visit

M. Night Shyamalan, 2015
There were probably many people who saw the trailer for The Visit, and when they saw the name "M. Night Shyamalan" on the screen they chuckled. They chuckled, because at this point, after many disappointing attempts to wow audiences like he did with The Sixth Sense - he has failed. Some look at Shyamalan as a punchline in Hollywood. And that's probably not fair. Sure, The Sixth Sense is one of the best horror films ever made. He made a really spectacular early in his career. When you do that, expectations are built. But his next two pictures, Unbreakable and Signs, were not poor offerings at all. That one quick shot in Signs of the kid watching a news broadcast on TV and seeing the alien pass by the alleyway is a frightening image stuck in my mind for eternity. I've also stood up for the film that followed that two - The Village on many occasions and was genuinely surprised with the big twist. But Shyamalan is also guilty of giving us The Happening, Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender and After Earth. That string of films created this crater in his filmography that for some people (not me) is unforgivable.

So the big question on many cinephiles mind is - Is Shyamalan BACK? The answer is, well MAYBE HE IS. The Visit is a good film. In terms of where it's ranked in his filmography, it's probably somewhere below Signs but above The Village for sure. It's not going to be forever cemented in the minds of film-lovers like some of his other work in the genre, but it's a formidable piece of work that even has a signature twist in the latter moments.

Shyamalan experiences with the found footage genre by putting cameras in the hands of the two main characters / siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). Becca is an aspiring filmmaker, hoping to shoot a documentary that captures spending the week with their grandparents who they had never met before. Tyler is a wannabe rapper, constantly breaking out into annoying rhymes. Tyler's character is interesting in the sense that he will probably annoy lots of viewers. It's sort of that annoying kid trope that has the ability to draw some of the energy from a good film. But his constant rapping isn't enough to pull The Visit off of the tracks.

This is probably because there is so much mystery built up around the grandparents, who continue to act stranger and stranger. When they are told that their grandmother has "Sun-downing", a dementia-based condition that causes the elderly to act unpredictable and energetic at night, the curiosity only grows stronger. But it's when the behavior starts to spill into the daytime, and progressively gets worse and worse along with the diminishing niceness of the grandfather character, that you are on the edge of your seat wondering what's next. You can feel the progression as the days continue on, and you are reminded of what day it is in front of each segment. It adds a small element, making you assume that things are going to get pretty bad leading up to the final day of their trip.

Shymalan is able to successfully use the found footage technique to his advantage. It causes you to have that first person POV, and when you are under a porch and your grandmother starts swiftly crab-walking toward you - that's only going to add to the tension. You just aren't going to be able to have the same effect if the camera is fixed. There are a lot of jumpy moments, a lot of them bound to stick with you. In a genre that is desperately lacking in originality, The Visit provides some fresh story and unique circumstances. Now lets see if the studio will leave it alone and doesn't attempt to create a sequel with new production staff and beat the whole thing to death.

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