The Visit (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)

Posted: September 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

“The Visit” is one of the most arrogant films I can remember seeing.  Naturally, it comes from M. Night Shyamalan.  The film is arrogant in that it gives us a twist ending so obvious that it is actually insulting that Night thought it actually come as a twist to anyone.  Since the twist is so obvious, it also means that the vast majority of the film is spent with the film spinning its wheels.  Oh sure, the film thinks it’s building suspense, but Night clearly doesn’t know the difference between building suspense and merely giving clues to a twist we figured out 18 minutes into the film.

It’s very obvious what Night is doing with this film, and in case it wasn’t, he hammers his point home at the end by literally having a character speak his intended message directly in dialogue.  The message Night wants to tell us is “don’t hold on to anger”. Apparently the reason we’re not supposed to hold on to anger, even if the anger is justified (dad leaves his family for a bimbo he met at Starbucks, for example) is because you never know when the person you’re angry at might be murdered with a hammer.  Okay.  But really, what Night is trying to say is that he forgives us, the audience, for disliking his last few films. Oh, how big of you, Night. Your powers of forgiveness are inspiring to us all.

The main character of this film is Becca, who is played well by Olivia DeJonge. In fact, all of the actors in this film are quite good, and not at all at fault for what is wrong with the film.  Becca is a wannabe filmmaker, and Night largely makes the as much of a pretentious prick as he is.  We get it, Night.  You’re trying to tell all of the audience members who claimed you were a bad director that you actually know something about the language of cinema.  Oh, you know what mise en scene is. You have a character describe a type of shot that you use in you movies a lot.  What Night seems to be forgetting is that most of his critics don’t think he’s a bad director.  They think he’s a bad screenwriter.  While I have issues with “The Visit” in that it has the same problem many found footage/faux-documentary films have, in that there are scenes where it makes no sense that the characters are continuing to film, there are scenes that are well shot, and some moments in the third act work very well.  “The Visit” isn’t a film that made angry based on its direction, it made me angry because Night spends most of the movie screaming “I forgive you for not liking my films, and here’s a film that does the things you want me to do.”  Yes, “The Visit” is much closer to “The Sixth Sense” through “The Village” Night, and not the even-worse dreck he made after, like the execrable “Lady in the Water”.  Night obviously views himself as giving the audience a gift by returning to the films he made earlier in his career, apparently thinking that his audience abandoned him for trying things new (like making an R-rated movie with “The Happening” or adapting other works like “The Last Airbender”).  That’s not why your audience abandoned you, Night.  They left because your films became twist-centric exercises in idiocy, then dissolved into navel-gazing masturbatory exercises “Lady in the Water”, and then just went off the deep end.  The talented filmmaker who made “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” bought into his own hype, and self-destructed.

“The Visit” had some things going for it.  The concept of children going to visit their estranged grandparents, who then act weird, is a decent clothesline with which to hang a narrative.  The film ended up cast very well, to the point where characters who are supposed to be related to each other actually LOOK like they could be brother and sister.  Our other main character, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) looks like he’s actually Becca’s brother.  You forget how rare it is for film sibling to look like they’re related (or parent and child relations, etc) because you’re not reminded until you see a film where people who are supposed to be related are actually plausibly blood related.  That’s the only good thing I can say about Tyler, who is an obnoxious, rapper-wannabe 13-year-old and completely unlikable.  This isn’t the actors fault. When one character in the film tells him “I never liked you”, as an audience we have to accept that we didn’t either.  Becca, when not being a mouthpiece of Night’s dialogue proving he knows things about film, at least has moments where she seems like a very intelligent and soulful girl who has been temporarily stunted and hurt by recent life events. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) is very believable as a former wild child and party girl who never quite outgrew her character flaws despite becoming a good mother to two kids.

The kids take the train and meet up with their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie).  At first things go well, and then they start acting weird.  How weird? Well, about as weird and as normal as the screenplay requires them to be.  While the characters always remain realistically “crazy”, given what we figure out about them and the film admits to 90 minutes after we’ve figured it out, the screenplay pretty much lets them fluctuate between normal-acting and crazy, and differing levels of crazy, whenever it feels like it.  I don’t doubt that some mental illness works like that, but in the film it just feels like Night had their characters act however they needed to act for the plot to work, and not according to any organic purposes.

There’s not much else to say plot-wise, except that there are many opportunities for the kids to take it among themselves to get out of harm’s way, once they figure out what’s going on, but they refuse to do so for…reasons, I guess.  I am aware that they are at a house in the middle of nowhere, but if the danger is old, feeble people, you can still run til you reach a passing car, or you get into town, or you can hide in the abundant woods.  Hell, there’s a scene where Tyler literally stands frozen, for no reason, when he could easily take some sort of action.  I don’t care if the film gives him a useless germ phobia just to lead up to a gross out gag in that scene, it is unbelievable that he would stand still like that, 13-years-old or not.

Permeated through the film are small, attempting-to-be-sly in-jokes about how the genre, and film itself, is constructed.  They’re not that clever, and especially annoying when delivered from the mouth of a 15-year-old girl who acts like she’s a film expert because she’s watch a few Youtube tutorials on filmmaking.  Night, regardless of his stupid “message” at the end, obviously still harbors some anger at the audience that abandoned and insulted him.  The film comes off as a passive-aggressive person fake laughing his way through a fake apology, and then patting himself on the back for being the bigger person and not holding a grudge.

A better film would have ditched the idea of a twist, revealed what was going on early to the audience BUT NOT THE CHILDREN, and let tension build on what the audience knows and the characters do not.  You see Night, I may not have gone to film school, but I do have a degree in Film Studies, and that is what Hitchcock, a better director than you will ever be, would have done.  When you frame your film as a mystery, and the mystery is easily solvable, you don’t build tension, you just waste time.

There are enough good elements in the film to say it’s not a bad movie.  The good movie inside of this movie is just trapped in a basement by its screenwriter.  It’s arrogant, passive-aggressive screenwriter.  Also, the faux-documentary shit, because Night is using it in this manner, is just annoying.  This film could have easily been shot in a traditional manner and been the better for it.  This film is lucky that “The Gallows” came out earlier, saving it from being the worst found footage film of the year.

So I like the acting, I like the casting, I like the basic set-up for the film, I like some of the directing in the very last act (if we set aside found footage issues).  Everything else is so permeated by the director’s presence that it is salted Earth.  I can’t think of a film I’ve seen recently where the director’s presence is so pronounced.  I don’t mean films where the style is so tied to the director that you know it’s their work.  I mean a film where you are so distracted by the director inserting himself (figuratively) into every shot that you can barely focus on anything else.

Hey, at least it’s not as bad as “Lady in the Water”. C-

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