Considering that the last three M. Night Shyamalan movies – or four, depending on who you ask – are so notoriously awful, many critics seem to be getting caught up in heralding “The Visit” as some sort of “return to form.”
The reality is that if “The Visit” were made by a less-notable filmmaker, nobody would be talking about it. It’s a second-rate, micro-budget found-footage flick and nothing more.
It’s set up as a homemade documentary, with two kids – Becca and Tyler – going off to visit their estranged grandparents, whom they’ve never met before. The trip quickly turns into a horror show as the grandparents’ bizarre nighttime rituals give the kids reason to investigate.
The film’s most glaring problem is that its two child leads are, in a word, unbearable. It’s no fault of the actors, and they’re actually quite good in their roles, but the script does them zero favors.
Becca, 15, is an aspiring filmmaker, so naturally every line of her dialogue includes some vague allusion to filmmaking. Tossing around phrases from high-school film courses like “mise-en-scène” and talking about the ethics of hidden cameras don’t suddenly render your film high art.
It feels as if M. Night is trying to show off his filmic knowledge, but his shoddy writing ensures that it does exactly the opposite, and boy, is it obnoxious.
Even worse is Becca’s slightly younger brother Tyler, an aspiring rapper who isn’t embarrassed to spit rhymes in front of anyone who’ll listen. It’s incredibly awkward to watch him freestyle terribly the first time, and Shyamalan forces the poor kid to do it repeatedly.
“The Visit” goes for more laughs than scares, which gives the film a tonal imbalance that never skews too far toward either side. The humor would be fine if it were amusing, but considering that all the “laughs” stem from the rather annoying protagonists and their proclivities, it’s more loathsome than anything else.
If you were on the fence about whether or not this was a comedy, the scene splayed over the end credits should answer that question definitively.
Additionally, all of Shyamalan’s attempts to emotionally resonate are squandered by the fact that the entire conceit of the movie is just too half-baked. The flimsy setup hangs by a thread – these kids have never met their grandparents before, but why? The film attempts to answer this, but I almost wish it hadn’t, considering that the explanation couldn’t be more of an afterthought.
The film also has terrible storytelling mechanics that fall apart when given any thought. The “plot” makes absolutely no sense, and the script sets up rules only to completely disregard them when it’s convenient. For example, a big stink is made about the grandparents going crazy at 9:30 p.m. every night, but when the “twist” occurs and we learn what’s really going on, this detail becomes completely irrelevant.
A well-placed MacGuffin is one thing, but purposefully misleading your audience only to pull the rug out from under them with no logical explanation is just lazy storytelling. When one new plot element suddenly negates several previous ones, that’s problematic. While the patented Shyamalan twist here is not his worst, it still hammers home the fact that M. Night is still a one-trick pony.
“The Visit” is a bizarre movie with a wildly inconsistent tone. There aren’t enough scares to recommend it as a horror film, and its sense of humor is too juvenile to skate by on laughs only.
Considering the film was made for only $5 million, it will already be profitable by its opening night. “The Visit” will likely mark the beginning of a new era of shoestring budget films for Shyamalan, but the jury’s still out on whether or not that’s a good thing.
Watch the trailer below: