Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I forgive you, M. Night Shyamalan. Of course, that’s easy for me to say, I never saw The Happening or The Village, so I don’t have those scars. After Signs, I sensibly gave him a pass, until tonight. And was I ever glad I relented.
A single mother finds that things in her family’s life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents.
It’s not a spoiler to say there’s a twist in the plot. Of course there is, it’s an M. Night Shyamalan movie – if you know the name, you know what to expect. It’s also part of the genre. Of course there’s something weird coming and when it gets there the twist is almost benign. I wasn’t dumbfounded, I was relieved to know what was going on. It’s not that surprising either. You can guess it within the first 10 minutes if you try hard enough, but that doesn’t matter.
This movie takes its time unfolding, it’s unhurried. Comfortable with itself, The Visit knows that it doesn’t have to be all fear all the time. There’s a lot of funny bits, sad bits and interesting bits. And when it does turn on the creepiness, it does it expertly and then builds. Unlike some horror films I may have reviewed recently, it does not rely on the jump scare. I’m not sure there was a single one – I wasn’t ever startled, I was apprehensive. I was nervous during the funny parts, I was worried during the sad parts and during the tense parts I was terrified. The Visit isn’t trying to surprise you, it wants you to know something’s coming and when. It unrolls with the ease of an Urban Legend. There was also no torture porn. The Visit knows full well that the scariest things in life aren’t the over-the-top and unimaginable, they are the close-to-home and the all-too-easy-to-imagine.
I’ve often wondered why a director would choose the hand-held (a la Blair Witch Project) as a camera style. I find the shakiness distracting and annoying, not to mention a bit contrived. But in this, it really did lend itself to the plot. I’m not sure this would have had the same impact if it had been filmed like Lord of the Rings. It makes for an unreliable narrator(s) and we’re left with the overwhelming sense that the camera is only picking up a fraction of the real action. We have to imagine the rest, and boy, we do. I was deeply uncomfortable in parts both due to the subject matter and the camera style but I could not tear my eyes away.
I can’t tell you about the technical, more film-makery parts of this because I forgot to look for them. I don’t remember the actors, only the characters and forget about the pacing, I don’t know. Of course that means the acting was great and the pacing was so good it was 99% invisible. I found myself revisiting elements of the plot as I left the theater and I know I will think about this film again (so NOT movie Chinese-food).
To be fair, there were some things I didn’t like about this film, I should mention. It dragged a bit in places as if it wasn’t sure where it wanted to go (though that really did heighten the suspense). There were awkward scenes. I also wasn’t too fond of its depiction of ‘old people’, its use of physical and mental infirmity were a bit tasteless in parts. This can also be forgiven for a few reasons (not the least of which was that the audience was, once again, nearly all teenagers). It also irks me that the main characters are children. I don’t really relate to them as much and … cards on the table… there just wasn’t enough Channing Tatum in this movie for me.
I think I understand the appeal of the Horror/Thriller genre a bit better now. It’s absorbing and satisfying in a way that no other genre is. If you’re a Horror fan, you should probably see this and even if you’re not, The Visit can show you what the genre can do when it’s done right.