THE VISIT (2015, M. Night Shyamalan)
Good enough to be worth seeing but just bad enough to be disappointing, THE VISIT is somewhat of a return to form for Shyamalan, who with THE HAPPENING couldn’t find his voice anymore, and with THE LAST AIRBENDER and AFTER EARTH was merely a hired gun. By “return to form,” I mean the best aspects that made his three strongest films (THE SIXTH SENSE, THE VILLAGE, and LADY IN THE WATER) stand out: using horror or supernatural elements to say something profound about human connections. In THE SIXTH SENSE, it was about communication, and how the lack of it between mother and son (and husband and wife) manifested itself in ghostly ways. Here, the theme is broken families — and how forgiveness and communication, or the lack of it, once again, can eat away at us for years.
As he did with the frustrating UNBREAKABLE, Shyamalan takes a while to get things going, but the creepy shit does start to pile up, and the third act is bananas. Just in terms of being an effective scary movie, THE VISIT almost emerges victorious. But one of its biggest problems is with its gimmick. Once again, the found-footage conceit rears its ugly head, and it serves no useful function for being scary — it does have some thematic value in that Becca’s filmmaker tendencies resonate as a comment on Shyamalan’s own career (the running gag of extras who instantly start acting when the camera is on them made me laugh), but it does not help the horror. Another big problem is the characters — things the grandparents do, both prior to and after the twisty revelations, make very little sense. And Tyler is not cute; he struck me as obnoxious and if I have to see him rap ever again I will cry myself to sleep. (It’s close between Grandma and Tyler’s raps for the scariest aspect of the film).
But THE VISIT really does come down to a real grappling with its theme of forgiveness and family, and that somewhat touching subject matter leaves more of a lasting impression than anything M. Night has done in a decade. Another rewrite, some better casting for Tyler, and a loss of the found-footage gimmick would have kicked this thing into really really good territory.