M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit
For many years now the name M. Night Shyamalan has been synonymous with the worst of Hollywood movie making. Maybe it's because he first came onto our radar with The Sixth Sense. Ever since that film he has become a very polarizing filmmaker. And with each subsequent film the poles shifted farther away from his favor. Beginning with Lady In The Water and continuing all the way through After Earth, Shyamalan has been a punching bag. But maybe, just maybe, he still had something to prove. Will The Visit be the film to win him favor again after a string of bad films?
After the disaster of The Last Airbender and After Earth it seemed that it was a forgone conclusion. Shyamalan would join the ranks of Fred Dekker and Ron Underwood in Hollywood. Good enough for TV, but they get no more chances directing anything with a budget. But Shyamalan was smart. He took the money he made from After Earth and self financed a small little "Found Footage" movie with no big names and full creative control. Love him or hate him, this was a smart move, and the only way he could do more than direct a random episode of Wayward Pines. The result was The Visit, a story of two teenagers who go and visit the grandparents they never met in the hopes of helping them mend their relationship with their daughter. The fifteen year old girl decides to document the whole thing. She is a child who lost herself in the art of filmmaking after their dad moved across the country and abandoned them. She gave a second camera to her brother and they set off to a farm in Pennsylvania to meet their grandparents.
The first day was normal and happy, until after 9:30 that night. This is where the movie could have gone bad very quickly. Each day in the film added a little more mystery and tension. The weird goings-on of the grandparents went from odd to downright disturbing. The cast consisted of relative unknowns, with the exception of Kathryn Hahn, and that helped to really get into the idea of this being something that was really happening to these poor children. One thing Shyamalan has always done well, love him or hate him, is get amazing performances from children. And this film is no exception.
The good parts of the film were a solid return to form for the director. He took a simple story about crazed old people, who may just be insane, or may be afflicted by something supernatural, and turned into a story about the children dealing with their own abandonment issues. He also played a lot with the idea of mental illness. When you look at his strongest films, they were not about ghosts, invincibility or aliens. They were about men finding their purpose, coming back to who they should be, getting their lives back on track. This film takes themes he hasn't played with as much in his better films, but still shows them in a very sensitive and emotional light, while having some fun scaring you along the way.
When I sat down in the theater knowing who made this film, I tried my hardest not to pre-judge what I was about to see. But I was not really enthusiastic about the prospect of watching another let down from a filmmaker I once got excited about. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. This is a return to form for Shyamalan. Let's hope he can keep that momentum going with the next movie he's planning.