M Night Shyamalan hasn’t made a good movie in awhile. I’m not going to dwell on those past failures and instead get to the good news – The Visit is a whole lot of fun.
Self financed to the tune of $5 million, The Visit is the cheapest film he’s ever made, costing less than his first full feature Wide Awake which was shot in 1995. Without the involvelent of a major studio, Shyamlan had total freedom to whatever he want with the picture.
And the result is quite delightfully weird. It’s the story of two kids who go to visit their grandparents. There’s family intrigue thanks to a complicated backstory leaving a mystery to be solved, and it’s all wrapped up in a bit of a found footage bow thanks to the older sibling being an aspiring filmmaker.
Found footage films can be stodgy affairs but Shyamalan solves that problem by having plenty happening all the time. Whether it’s the interplay between the two kids, Skype calls with mom, delving into the past or baking or playing hide and seek with grandma, it’s all a good combination of storytelling and atmosphere.
But the best thing about The Visit is just how nutty it gets, and keeps on getting, right to the zany finale. To say more would enter spoiler territory but the pacing throughout is terrific, starting out slowly and bringing us through to an utterly insane finale.
There’s just a lot going on here, including healthy doses of comedy and creeps. The scares are decent, if fairly obvious to anyone who has seen a found footage film before but the lack of a soundtrack and the slow movements of the camera do create some startling moments.
It’s also a very self-aware film, particularly when it comes to the idea of Becca (Olivia De Jonge) shooting a documentary. The teen spends long minutes talking about mise en scene and mood and if it all comes off as hopelessly pretentious that’s precisely the point. She’s a broadly drawn version of a young filmmaker, spouting textbook verbiage in the way her brother vomits rap lyrics.
That said, these character do occasionally become annoying, particularly the younger kid played by Aussie Ed Oxenbould. Shyamalan may have found his rapping hilarious but that doesn’t make it so. Their quirks are rooted in the drama as the picture progresses but they’re still little more than stereotypes.
Older players Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie really class up the place with their performances, helping to sell the increasingly unusual behaviour of their characters.
The Visit is a fun and efficient horror flick, playing with found footage conventions and serving up scares and giggles at a good pace. It’s also deliciously strange in a way you’d never find from a major studio film. One thing is certain, it’s Shyamalan’s best for many a year.