I have to be honest here. If The Visit had not been the first movie on the first night of the Midnight Passion series at BIFF 2015, I would not have seen the film at all. M. Night Shyamalan has become one of the most divisive directors in Hollywood today and my feelings tend to mirror his sharpest critics. The “twist ending” style that brought him to fame with The Sixth Sense has turned into an albatross that has followed him his entire career. The few times that he has deviated from that formula have been even more painful to watch(After Earth, The Last Airbender). Despite my feelings on his most recent movies, I seem to always see them in the theater. For the first time in a long time, I was happy to have seen this one on the big screen, though.
The movie is filmed as a documentary being shot by a 15 year old girl. Becca and her younger brother, Tyler, are visiting their grandparents for the first time. Their mother has been estranged from their grandparents since she was a teenager, but a week-long cruise with her boyfriend allows the kids the chance to meet their family without Mom having to confront a decades-old argument. After a train ride alone, “Nana” and “Pop-pop” pick them up from the station and take them to a rural home in Pennsylvania farming country. It doesn’t take long for things to become very strange.
One of the biggest themes of the story is a neurological condition called “sundowning”. The condition is closely associated with dementia and it’s symptoms are strongest in low lighting, or when the sun goes down. Every night around 9:30, Nana goes a little crazy. One night, she’s vomiting uncontrollably. Another night, she is scratching at the walls or sprinting through rooms. It’s all explained to them by their grandfather, but the episodes are still creepy enough to make the kids look deeper into what’s really going on with their grandparents.
The movie isn’t perfect. There are a lot of horror movie cliches that ultimately take away from the feature. The most glaring banality in the film is it’s pseudo-documentary style. Filming with a shaky, handheld camera has been severely overdone in modern horror movies. It’s not quite a found-footage presentation, but it still has that feel. This style makes everything seem too over the top. At certain points, the dialogue is especially on the nose. In one scene, Becca makes a comment about how she “bets Mom used to play hide and seek under there as a kid”. In the very next scene, she’s Skyping with her mom and tells her about the crawlspace beneath the porch. Sure enough, Mom responds with “I used to play hide and seek there as a kid”. The dialogue doesn’t leave alot to the imagination. The audience is never really given a chance to figure things out on their own.
Despite these issues, the movie was a lot of fun. It really needs to be seen at the theater, though. The night that I watched the film, there was a ridiculous amount of crowd reaction. That level of jumpiness and crowd involvement is addictive. The scares and the jokes seem to amplify when you’re watching with a few hundred strangers. It really needs to be viewed on the big screen. I just don’t think it would be the same in any other setting.
‘The Visit’ directed by M. Night Shyamalan screens once more on October 6th at 4pm