Starring: Olivia DeJonge (The Sisterhood of Night), Ed Oxenbould (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), Deanna Dunagan (Running Scared), Peter McRobbie (Lincoln), Kathryn Hahn (Tomorrowland)
Writer/Director: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense)
Runtime: 1 hour 34 minutes
Release Date: 9 September (UK), 11 September (US)
It seems like the world has given up on M. Night Shyamalan. After showing so much promise with his early work like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, his career has just been on a gradual downward slope since then (OK, to be fair, After Earth was better than The Last Airbender, but after that there is no way but up). But in a thankfully surprising turn, Shyamalan has taken a moment to reflect and done something he should have done a long time ago: go back to basics. Rather than attempt another big budget disaster, he has instead teamed up with Blumhouse to create The Visit, a found footage horror/thriller. Not exactly a revolutionary idea, but it’s exactly the kind of simple project that Shyamalan needs to rehabilitate himself and, in a twist worthy of the man himself, The Visit turns out to actually be a pretty decent movie.
The Visit is fairly light on story, mainly being a set-up for a series of escalating creepy scenes, but there’s just enough plot to remain engaging and the more relaxed structure fits the documentary-style approach. Apart from the occasional false scare the movie doesn’t waste time, and is very snappily paced with just the right amount of slower moments to build suspense and character. But what’s most surprising about The Visit is its self-aware tone; unlike The Happening, Shyamalan’s actually trying to be funny on purpose this time. There is a surprising amount of humour in the film and, whilst some of it comes off as a bit forced and awkward, it’s refreshing to see a horror movie with some lighter elements. The part of this that works best is how Becca (DeJonge) draws attention to the filmmaking techniques she’s utilising; the film even includes some intentional mistakes like Becca having to remind her brother (Oxenbould) not to look into the camera or restarting an interview question. It adds some authenticity to the film as a mockumentary, and at times it almost feels like Shyamalan is making fun of himself. Like a lot of Shyamalan films, there is a twist in the third act and, though not completely original and conceivably predictable, it does at least make sense and add up with the rest of the movie.
Actors often struggle in Shyamalan films due to his occasionally stilted dialogue and odd directional choices, but thankfully all off-kilter performances here are intentional. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould make a believable brother-sister team and their clashing personalities provide some relief from the more eerie moments. They even get their own mini-arcs in the story, though they do feel a little underdeveloped; Oxenbould’s germophobia is only brought up twice before he has to confront it, and him getting over it happens off screen. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie aren’t exactly subtle in their creepiness, but they’re just normal enough at points to make you wonder exactly what is wrong with then and they both get their more emotional moments; the scenes where DeJonge interviews Dunagan are especially well executed. Kathryn Hahn’s role is small but integral, using her comedic chops to add further levity to her scenes, but also providing strong dramatic work especially in her bookending scenes with DeJonge.
Found footage is a worn-out and thankfully dying gimmick at this point (even Paranormal Activity is finally calling it quits next month), and that’s mainly because most films that use it are doing it not for creative reasons but simply to save costs and cover up incompetence. Whilst I’m sure budget reasons were part of it, The Visit’s approach to the method not only makes sense within the story but is also executed with effort. By writing Becca as an aspiring filmmaker, the cinematography’s cinematic framing gives it a more polished feel without losing authenticity, balancing that fine line between looking too professional and too lazy. Other than the opening and closing credits, it’s a movie that believably could have been made by this teenage girl (in a good way), resulting in some of the best use of found footage since Chronicle.
The Visit isn’t on par with Shyamalan’s early work nor does it excuse his recent atrocities, but going from dreadful to pretty good is still an enormous leap to accomplish. It’s a surprising film on many other levels, from its tongue-in-cheek tone to its effective use of the found footage format, and proves that a filmmaker whose fallen from grace as much as Shyamalan can bounce back if given the chance. I wouldn’t say the man is back, but he’s certainly on his way there.
FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10
FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10