THE VISIT Review
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Genre: Found-Footage Horror, Black Comedy
Not only has it been since the early 2000s that M. Night Shyamalan brought out any worthwhile cinematic content, but many of his post-THE VILLAGE releases have been so notably horrible that he’s cemented his reputation as cinema poison. Yet lo and behold, Shyamalan’s knight in shining armor arrived at his doorstep in 2015, and oddly enough, it is a man who has tried to distance himself from risky financial endeavors; Jason Blum of horror titan Blumhouse has officially released his 10th film of 2015 with THE VISIT, and surprisingly, it is not only a good Shyamalan film, but it ranks amongst Blumhouse’s best releases this year.
He’s already thinking about the profits from OUIJA 2
A clever take on the found-footage genre, and executed with absurdly good comedic timing, THE VISIT is an uncanny horror comedy that neatly plays into the expectations of its well-worn genre. Thanks to two charismatic child actors, Shyamalan’s release profits from compelling protagonists, whose characters are best explored when the camera drifts into endearing, and sometimes tragic outtake footage, showing us just how childish Ed Oxenbould’s character is and how painfully artsy Olivia DeJonge attempts to be. This interplay of youthful naivete and self-loving artistic ignorance makes for charming on-screen chemistry that keeps the audience on their feet, consistently flip-flopping between which child is more wise. Naturally, this is all bolstered thanks to the chilling, and occasionally over-the-top, performances from Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie.
Cinematically, the film does a surprisingly good job at using camera placement in a way that doesn’t feel convenient, and characters rarely have their cameras turned on when they realistically wouldn’t, making for one of the smarter found-footage releases in recent memory. Since Blumhouse is pretty much the king of this niche sub-genre at this point, it’s befitting that they are also the ones most effectively mocking the genre’s contrivances. Comically, the jokes land well thanks to the home video aesthetic, and the characters – most notably the grandparents – come across as deceptively effective as Mark Duplass does in CREEP.
You’d never guess that she’d be voting for Trump
But what’s even greater is the horror, which surprisingly enough is quite sparse on jump-scares and heavy on eerie imagery, shock value, clever sound design, and playing into the unexpected. What’s so satisfying about the experience is that although the film is never scary for long enough to terrify the viewer, it’s consistently funny enough to make every moment of tension uncomfortably satisfying through comedic effect. However, a number of jump scares do feel disappointing for what is often horror filmmaking that benefits off of its comically ridiculous qualities, and sometimes scenes feel like they could have been taken better advantage of, most notably a surveillance scene involving a camera being placed in the living room overnight.
What many might ask themselves is if The Visit is plagued by the classic Shyamalan twist, and whilst that answer is a resounding “YES”, it’s also a plot development that works well within the genre guidelines and effectively amplifies the quality of the narrative tension.
Though this remains his best one by far
Nonetheless, to anyone even remotely familiar with contemporary horror, this twist can be seen coming from a mile away, but it’s not really something that can be categorized as a flaw. However, what should be noted is that THE VISIT never feels like great or redefining horror, but rather satisfying entertainment, and thus consistently feels like it has little to say to its audience outside of its roller-coaster premise. It doesn’t even really fit in well with its contemporaries IT FOLLOWS or THE BABADOOK as a film that tries to put a modern twist on its genre. In fact, THE VISIT feels quite classical in approach save for its intention to parody, making its closest peer UNFRIENDED, but even that film dared to explore a timely issue of cyber bullying.
One might ask themselves why it took Shyamalan until 2015 to finally release a worthwhile piece of cinema, regardless if it’s a comedy, a horror film, or a member of any other genre. This is naturally a question that’s up for debate, but what must be considered is his slow, but steady decline in reputation. Essentially, Shyamalan transitioned from pop-culture icon – working with the likes of Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and Samuel L. Jackson – to indie filmmaker. With THE VISIT, it’s almost as if Shyamalan has come to the end of a Benjamin Button-style career. By playing within Jason Blum’s laws of low-budget filmmaking, Shyamalan had to show cinematic restraint, something his weakest films sorely lacked, and now that he found this again, he also discovered his knack for comedic timing, making for a wildly entertaining, spooky horror film with some hilariously goofy qualities.