Halloween is fast approaching which means it’s time for scary movies. When scanning the choices in the cinema, the name M. Night Shyamalan popped up for The Visit. Now, his name does not spark terror in my mind after the travesties that were The Village, The Happening, and Lady in the Water, but with the good press and reviews that circled The Visit, I was compelled to check it out.
The first scare came from the box office when I was robbed of £15 for a matinee show in the middle of the week, but I settled in for my overpriced flick and waited to be terrified. And terrified I was. Within about fifteen minutes of the film, I was telling myself to leave. My adrenaline was racing, and I was gripping my pant leg urging myself to run out the door and get my money back. But I stayed…
We open with a documentary style set up with Becca and her mother (Kathryn Hahn) discussing her mother’s tumultuous exit from her parent’s lives many years ago when she ran off with her tutor. Given no other character name besides “Mom,” she talks to Becca about this relationship-altering time in her life to prepare her for the upcoming visit with them.
Both Becca and her brother, Tyler, have never met their grandparents, and Becca, a budding documentarian, plans on filming the whole week for her mom, and more importantly, cinematic fame. My first question was what thirteen-ish year old girl has that high of a quality camera to project perfectly clean images onto a cinema screen? And also, being so young, how did she learn how to handle a Steadicam? For being mostly handheld, the camera is amazingly fluid.
When Becca and Tyler arrive, they stage encounters and conversations all for the sake of the camera and begin their week-long “getting to know you” visit. But on their first night, after being told that bedtime is at 9:30pm, they start to hear strange noises in the night. In true Blair Witch Project fashion, Becca holds the camera close to her face as she says she is going to investigate. They witness their grandmother vomiting helter skelter all over the kitchen floor.
Elves must have scrubbed the house clean because by morning, everything was sparkling. Questions arise, but their grandfather, Pop Pop, assures the kids it was a 24 hour stomach bug. But the next night is definitely not a stomach bug as they witness her standing naked in the hallway scratching feverishly at the wallpaper. Quickly, Pop Pop describes their grandmother’s condition as “sun-downing”: a condition where Alzheimer’s strikes when the sun sets.
The kids seem to buy this, at least for the moment. A knock on the door one afternoon tells us their grandparents have not been at their jobs in over a week. A doctor from the nursing home where they volunteer is just checking on them and then later, Stacey, a recovering drug addict that knew “Nana” and “Pop Pop” comes by asking about them. Conveniently for the plot, Nana and Pop Pop are out of the house when these visitors come by.
Everything changes the last night when their mom, over Skype, drops a bombshell and madness ensues. Things escalate as the clock runs out to 9:30pm, and it’s time for “sun-downing” to commence.
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M. Night Shyamalan has been a scarce name said in Hollywood between his box office failures After Earth, Lady in the Water, and The Happening, but with The Visit, he seems to be coming back to horror-film-footing. He even has gotten some acclaim for the Wayward Pines series he recently produced for Fox. I will say that I am a Wayward Pines fan. I really enjoyed the show and am looking forward to a second viewing.
But I have shied away from Shyamalan after laughing my way through The Happening and cringing during Lady in the Water. Besides the terrible writing and quality of acting both of these films have, the fact that Shyamalan has gotten more and more preachy is something that can’t be ignored.
In Lady in the Water, he puts himself in the film as the “voice of reason” and the one to bring the next great thing to the world. (Give me a break.) And in The Happening he preaches about how terribly we, as humans, treat the Earth. I never saw After Earth, but I can only imagine it being a sort of sequel to the Mark Wahlberg disaster.
In The Visit, the moral of everything seems to be, “Don’t hold on to anger.” The words are even said in a very dramatic fashion, complete with tears and “cinematic” hugging. So, no, Shyamalan does not break away from the sappy, preachy moments that castigate him.
I did give The Village another watch the other night to see how time treated the follow up to a guilty-pleasure film, Signs. It’s awful. Even with a star-studded cast, the material does not hold up and is again, terribly preachy! Yes, humans are bad and awful creatures, and no one other than myself, in cameo, can say it.
My heart definitely raced, and I still have nail indentations in my calf from the tension throughout The Visit, but the bar is still raised impossibly high after The Sixth Sense. Shyamalan will never get back to that level of suspense and adrenaline rush. But for cheap(ish) and easy scares, The Visit delivers for this Halloween season. It certainly is a better choice than watching The Last Airbender.
2.5 out of 5 stars