Shyamalan: back on my radar!
I pretty much gave up on M. Night Shyamalan about a decade ago. He had me up until The Village. And yes, I actually really liked The Village. And I happen to think Signs was something of an offbeat masterpiece. But then there was about ten years of watching him become something of an industry joke.
Maybe it was the quirky vibe I got from the trailer, maybe it was the spattering of favourable reviews, but there I was…intrigued by a Shyamalan film for the first time since The Happening. (I was so excited going in to that and spent the whole film trying to figure out if he was kidding or not.)
While there are a handful of character moments that I found hard to buy, The Visit, for the most part, had me from start to finish. It is a lot of fun. And I really mean that. It is a solid piece of entertainment with just enough shade to keep you on edge.
The elements that I appreciated most about this film were all pleasant surprises.
It is visually inspired. Most found footage films, by design, are made to feel sloppy and amateurish. This attempt at realism is often completely undermined by a musical score and the overall intentionality creeping into what is obviously a produced film that has certain marks to hit. Here, Shyamalan affords himself the opportunity to create well-crafted, even beautiful, images by this very simple conceit: one of our main characters is a young, aspiring filmmaker who fancies herself an artiste.
This conceit also leads to another element that impressed me about this film: the humour. Shyamalan is poking fun at his own artistry here. When Becka directs her brother with “we’re looking for visual tension” and instructs him on how to create “organic” visual moments, Shyamalan is consciously poking fun at his own pretentious artist persona. It is funny to hear the terminology, but when you actually see the images that come out of it, you can’t help but acknowledge the value of that artistry. As silly as she sounds, the film that Becka is making actually works. And so, ultimately, Shyamalan’s film works!
And the humour is not limited to self-awareness (which is the downfall of many recent horror films). The characters and the situations are ripe with idiosyncratic charm and the film handles the creepy shenanigans with a goofiness that makes it all feel very natural. This is due, in large part, to our two leads; these kids ring true because Shyamalan allows them to be their adolescent selves—swaggering, angst-ridden and playful. They think they’re very clever, but the film itself isn’t trying to be.
I was surprised by the emotional punch the film delivers in its finale. Dramatically, it shouldn’t have worked at all; it’s kinda clunky from a structural standpoint. It’s presented as a formal coda (although obviously referencing plot points already established) and could have felt very cheap, but—strangely enough—doesn’t. The quick and explicit heart-to-heart about forgiveness actually hits the mark! With measured efficiency, the film addresses the complexity of forgiveness as a phenomenon that requires both offering and acceptance; without both, it can exist as a desolate limbo.
And finally: the sheer madness! In the last ten minutes, this film goes to a very uncomfortable place and allows our minds to imagine some very perverse possibilities before finally landing face first into what is, by far, one of the funniest and most unpleasant scenarios I can imagine coming out of a PG rated horror/comedy.
Despite some brief and relatively inconsequential hiccups (that haters will pounce on), The Visit is, for me, the most genuine, dynamic and compelling film Shyamalan has made in over a decade.
He’s back on my radar.
The Visit (2015)
Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie