Last night, I participated in a scenario more horrifyingly real than any fright film. Friday afternoon, coding away, my phone buzzed as an ominous text arrived – “Hey man, feel like getting Shyamalan’d tonight?”
And, horror of horrors, I found myself replying, “Sure.”
That’s right: I went to see an M. Night Shyamalan film. After the torture he’s perpetrated on me, you’d think I would do anything in my power to avoid submitting to whatever new atrocity he’s cooked up. Yet, there I was, butt in a cinema seat, teeth gritted like I was in the dentists chair, my stomach turning at the thought of having flushed more money into Shyamalan’s account and being an M. Night enabler. To make matters potentially worse, I had convinced my wife to accompany me. She’s vowed never to spend another dime on the man’s work, and to make the stakes higher, she’s not a fan of horror. I told her that it was a PG-13 comedy-horror. Comedy first, horror second, you see? The last time I convinced her to see a horror, she was mad at me for a week. I’d willingly put myself into an awful trap of Saw-like potential. Should I cut off the arm my wife clutched just to run out of the theater now and avoid the inevitable backlash?
Why would I do this? Was it Stockholm Syndrome from the hours of punishment I’d endured at Shyamalan’s hand? Well, everyone deserves another chance, right? M. Night has made good films in the past, notably The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable; here he was, shorn of gigantic budget (whether willingly in an attempt to return to his roots and reinvent, or because investors were no longer willing to pony up), returning to horror, the genre that turned him into a superstar. The trailers for The Visit looked promising – funny, unpretentious, atmospheric, and creepy. Okay, M. Night. You got me. Take my cash. I’m trusting you here, so please, I’m begging you, don’t stab me in the back. My wife will never let me live it down.
As it turns out, the film is decent. It’s not world changing, it’s not particularly surprising, but it is solidly enjoyable, funny, has some good frights and good use of tension. At the end of the day, that’s a big point in the W column for M. Night and I – he’s made a film that’s taken him out of garbage tier, and my wife doesn’t hate me.
Single mom, known only as Mom here (Kathryn Hahn), heads out for a cruise week with her new boyfriend, and ships her kids Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and Becca (Olivia DeJonge) off to her parents (Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan). Becca is a bit of a budding filmmaker, and so, decides to take this opportunity to film everything documentary style. When they get there, they find their Nana and Pop Pop are more than a little odd. Is it just that they’re old and weird, or is there something else going on?
As I said, this film isn’t particularly surprising – I guessed what was going on about five minutes into it – but it is solidly enjoyable. The characters have some good dialog, the acting is excellent (the kids Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge are great, and Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan are perfectly creepy and strange). What is surprising is there are some good laughs, and Shyamalan gives these characters depth; he’s not scared to let them be vulnerable, nerdy, or weird. Like in his other films, M. Night has a great grasp of the tension and release of horror and suspense, and he puts it to good work. Also, the film looks good despite it being of the handheld, amateur found footage stylistic genre, and M. Night, by giving Becca ambitions of being a filmmaker, he gives it a good fictional reason to be presented that way.
If you’ve read this far and you believe what I’ve said (I don’t blame you if you’re incredulous), give The Visit a chance. Sure, it’s a bit tasteless in its stigmatizing of the mentally ill and its gerontophobia, and it might not wipe the horrible memories of bad films past, but it just might remind you why everyone was excited about M. Night Shyamalan in the first place. If this is his regrounding, a recalibration of his sensibilities, he’s done his job. Now don’t betray me again, M. Night. This was your last chance. Nobody is that forgiving.