The Visit (dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 2015): I’ll give Shyamalan credit for The Sixth Sense, even though my favorite is probably the much-maligned Signs. What’s working in both those films, and what was so absent in later entries like The Village or The Happening, is the human element. Beyond the devices the films were based on (kid sees dead people; aliens invade earth), the main and supporting characters had human conflicts with which they grappled. But Shyamalan dropped these in favor of bigger and stupider twists as his career progressed (or regressed, depending on how you look at it), and The Visit is no different. Hailed in some circles as a ‘return to form’ (er, what form, exactly?), the film is enjoyable insofar as you stow away the analytical side of your brain for 90 minutes.
Once the big secret is revealed—(spoilers!) the grandparents are actually murderous escaped mental patients!—nothing that came in the film beforehand makes sense. In fact, this is the rare case where a bigger, more ridiculous twist might have helped Shyamalan, as it would have further poked fun at his bad past habits and might have better explained the truly bizarre and creepy nature of the old couple. Instead, we get what I suppose you could call the most logical explanation, but it’s highly unsatisfying; after profuse nighttime vomiting, a stash of soiled adult diapers, and naked scrambling around the house, a twist as tame as the two of them being insane doesn’t befit the Shyamalan model. Further, the choice to film this as a documentary leaves a lot to be desired, especially for a film that bills itself as part comedy. Unless you’re the kind of rube who finds a young, white kid rapping hilarious (he says ‘ho’ at the end of his verses, tee hee!), you’re unlikely to find much comical in the eye-rolling precociousness of our protagonists; that Shyamalan insists on shooting in documentary style robs us of the chance to see the children’s amusing reactions to their grandparents’ creepy antics, thus deflating the film’s comic potential.
And if like me the analytical side of your mind gnaws away at you too much to ignore the film’s glaring inconsistencies, try not to trouble yourself about these peculiar problems: How, if the fake grandparents are as criminally mad as we are led to believe, are they able to keep their behavior in check for as long as they do? And the one that really gets me: how, after going the traumatizing experience of murdering two old people after a week of psychological torture, does the film’s leading lady—a teenager, mind you—manage to have the wherewithal to edit the footage in order to make the film? Are we meant to believe that after such horrifying event that Becca sat down, repeatedly re-watched, and edited the scenes where she stabs an old woman to death with a mirror shard and her brother crushes the skull of a geezer by slamming the refrigerator door against it? And then puts in a joke at the end (another rap)? It’s not that horror movies have to make sense in the real world, but they ought to stick to the rules of the universe they inhabit.
I can already hear the voices that would criticize my critique: ‘You’re thinking about it too hard!’ or ‘It’s just a stupid film!’ or ‘Dumping on Shyamalan is too easy!’ Well, I won’t apologize for wondering about the holes in a film I didn’t find engaging in the first place, am generally not fond of stupid films unless they make me laugh (whether laughs are intentional or not), and yes, of course it’s easy to dump on Shyamalan. He seems to have accidentally made one or two good movies much in the same way Richard Kelly or Michael Cimino did. At least Shyamalan didn’t show up as the wacky neighbor or the gas station attendant this time. If he did, don’t tell me.