"No one gives a crap about cinematic standards."
This line from The Visit reflects on the movie in the worst ways possible. Infamous writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is coming off of a string of three horrendously bad movies, but his most ardent fans hold on to the hope that he will eventually make a movie worthy of his terrific early efforts. Personally, I haven't been too optimistic about Shyamalan's career, but I sacrificed 90 minutes of my life to watch his new found-footage horror film The Visit so I could tell you all whether or not this is his comeback movie.
Don't call this M. Night Shyamalan's comeback movie. It's funny sometimes, scary far less of the time, and wretchedly written all of the time.
The Visit tells a fairly straightforward story to get the horror wheels turning: a mother sends her kids to a week at their grandparents' house. The mother is estranged from her parents due to a barely tossed in narrative mystery, so her kids hope that their influence can help heal the relationship between their mother and their grandparents. It's a horror film though, so, you know, things aren't all they seem to be. Grandma and grandpa start acting weird, and luckily 15-year-old movie nerd Rebecca has decided to film all the strange happenings.
This brings us to The Visit's two most annoying problems. Firstly, the found-footage gimmick is constantly distracting. The movie understandably uses the found-footage style because it was shot on a small budget, but it handles the style poorly. Rebecca and her brother Tyler invent increasingly awkward reasons to keep filming everything (even in situations where it would literally be physically impossible to keep a camera pointed at anything), and their filming methods often sacrifice sensible camera use for cheap scares. This makes The Visit frustrating to look at, but the second of its main problems makes it all the more frustrating to listen to.
M. Night Shyamalan's dialogue writing in this movie is absolutely awful, and in no one is that more evident than in the character of Rebecca.
None of the characters in The Visit speak remotely like actual human beings. The dialogue is wooden and generic throughout, but the kids have it worst. The lines that these capable child actors are forced to deliver brand their characters as one note stereotypes- Rebecca the aspiring filmmaker teenager and Tyler the aspiring gangster child- and dear god is Rebecca's speech grating. She's supposed to come off as intelligent, but she only sounds like a pretentious robot. It's as if Shyamalan first wrote all of her dialogue normally, then pored over a thesaurus and replaced every other word with a bigger or "smarter" word. At least Tyler's wannabe rapper slang is intermittently funny; every time Rebecca opened her mouth I reconsidered the value of a sense of hearing.
The Visit tries to be three things: funny, scary, and heartfelt. Admittedly, it does an adequate job of being comedically dark. A decent amount of jokes land, largely in part to child actors Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould displaying promising talent, and the grandparent actors Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan mastering physical comedy. The film alternates between genuinely humorous black comedy and slapstick jokes that usually fall flat- but this tradeoff still fares better than the horror. The movie does nothing to create a sense of tension or dread, instead solely relying on jump scares from start to finish. But even these aren't effective: every jump scare is so clearly signposted by audio effects, music, or strange camera movements that all but one or two of them failed to frighten whatsoever. It got to the point that I'd be hesitant to label it a horror film.
Concerning attempts to be heartfelt: there's a movie hidden deep within The Visit that centers on themes of broken families, dealing with abandonment, and forgiveness. These themes, however, are tactlessly shoved into self-contained moments at the movie's beginning, middle, and end, and never developed elsewhere. Especially at the movie's close, these familial messages are delivered with a heavy-handed "THIS IS THE MORAL MESSAGE" lack of subtlety. Perhaps if Shyamalan exerted more effort in layering these themes throughout the film, it would have felt more put together.
And yes, there's a Shyamalan twist. It's clever, but it's laughably predictable.
Overall, The Visit is a small step forward for M. Night Shyamalan- at least from his previous films. He's graduated from terrible to barely bearable. But hey, maybe I'm just in the wrong demographic: the preteen girls in the theater were loudly screaming and laughing throughout the whole thing.