“I put waaaay too much thought into figuring out this weekend’s two movies. See, the thing is, Sat is gonna be spent at NYC, which means that I’d have to get my movie fix in Thur or Fri evening (skipping yoga one of those days) or on Sun, cutting into my chill-and-do-nothing afternoon that I’ve grown so fond and protective of. Then I found that I should be able to make a movie in NYC if I hustle getting from place to place. Then there were all the inner arguments about whether that was worth it, and do I opt for the one that’s only playing in NYC that I’d need to haul butt to get to? Or the one with better times, that I could also see in Boston, and hope that the other won’t be missed or try to catch it on an upcoming crowded weekend if it does release wider. These are the things that control my life. The struggle is real.
I ultimately went with the Thur option to get in both movies. I stupidly realized later that decisions should have been much much easier because this option was the Shyamalan movie, and for most of his films, the less you know, the better. I remember making a point to see The Village on the afternoon it opened because I’d been spoiled for every other one: Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs. When The Happening came out, I assumed I’d be safe waiting until Sunday. Nope, it was discussed at dinner with friends on Saturday.
I don’t think I need to explain the (mostly downward going) rollercoaster in the quality of Shyamalan’s films. Somewhere along the lines, they went from brilliant to laughable. May have shared this story before, but I still remember seeing a trailer for Devil, which he didn’t even write/direct, just had credits for story and producing. No one in the theater is really going with what’s happening on screen, but when M Night Shyamalan’s movie flashed on the screen, the place erupted in laughter. Kind of a low blow for someone whose work was Oscar nominated just ten years before.
As for me, I’m more accepting of some of his lesser ones. And by that I mostly mean that I did enjoy The Village. And I can see what he was trying to do with Signs. The others I would have a hard time defending. So I was willing to give him another chance with The Visit, and that was totally the right decision. It might not be on the same level as Sixth Sense, but it’s a step in the right direction. Shyamalan is taking things back to basics with a simple story and simple scares for massive effect. From what I’d read about it, he was also taking back artistic control, something he lost long the way with the bigger studio films. Sure, you may call that an excuse, but given some of the stories coming out of Hollywood lately (Josh Trank with Fantastic Four, Joss Whedon with Ultron), it really does kinda make sense that studio interference could have been a major factor in creating those clunkers.
The story here is pretty simple, possibly the simplest story we’ve seen from him. We have a single mother (the glorious Kathryn Hahn) estranged from her parents. Her two kids are invited to spend a week with these grandparents they’ve never met. Once the kids arrive, things start getting strange, especially at night, making them think that something is not right with their Nana and Poppop, and does it have something to do with the mysterious events of the day their mom left home?
Shyamalan borrowed a lot from the current trend of post-Paranormal Activity horror, the first thing being the found footage format. I sometimes complain about how gimmicky and nonsensical it is, but I think it worked here, mostly because it was framed well and created a more intimate feel. The older of the children Becca (an incredible newbie Olivia DeJonge) is filming the whole ordeal as a documentary about her family. She’s hoping to learn as much as she can about her mother while trying to reconcile her with her family. So it actually did make sense that so many things were caught on film, and the camera angles used lined up correctly.
Continuing that thought, so we’ve got a current genre trend in the hands of an expert in the genre, which made for an excellent combination. I spent the last act of the film terrified. Admittedly, some of that comes from actively allowing myself to get a little scared, instead of consciously resisting. I feel there’s a lot of cheap horror films that I can enjoy in the moment at the theater, that I later dismiss once I think thru them more carefully. There’s some of that at play here, but it was still pretty clear that this was in the hands of a master.
Fair warning, gonna talk vaguely about the last act. I won’t actually spoil anything, but if you really want to feel the film in its full effect (which I would recommend you do), please skip ahead to the next paragraph. Oh so you’re still with me? So what were the parting thoughts as I was recovering on the way home? My main impression is that I should have seen the famous Shyamalan twist coming, but I didn’t. Once it was revealed, I could play thru the earlier parts of the film in my head and confirm that they did match up. It wasn’t some tacked on ending, but something that was sufficiently supported. Awesome. I think the main reason I didn’t anticipate it was because I was staying present in the moment. My mind wasn’t wandering trying to solve it rather than waiting for it to unfold. For one, that’s just a testament to Shyamalan’s strengths in being able to keep my attention throughout. It’s also because I loved our two kids. More on them later, once we clear the spoiler-ish-but-not-really zone. We probably didn’t need the final sequence, which just put too nice a bow on things. Given what happened in the climax, I feel like the last mystery no longer mattered and didn’t need to be solved. By that point, it was unimportant, and the result was never going to be as satisfying or interesting as the myriad of things my imagination was running with.
With me again? Cool. One last piece to comment on is how much I loved the kids. Becca was this precocious little film prodigy, with a vocabulary that rivals the Dawson’s Creek kids, and she had a far better grasp of the nuances of film than I even come close to. She was truly strong willed and unique, and the type of young female character I’d like to see more of. IMDB trivia tells me that from DeJonge’s first audition, Shyamalan knew she was the one, and I can absolutely see it. Then her was her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). So much energy and charisma. In other films, his character could have been annoying or just a caricature, but he was far more than comic relief. He had his vulnerabilities and his strengths, and he was funny and sincere. Reminded me a lot of Shia LaBeouf back in his Even Stevens days. Let’s hop that this kid gets more work and a higher profile, but doesn’t turn into a crazy. Oh and points on the casting side for Broadway starlet Celia Keenan-Bolger. And for Kathryn Hahn, who maybe didn’t do too much, but it was fun to see her branch out from comedy.
I think that about sums it up. I feel like if Shyamalan can get some momentum from this, he can create another masterpiece like his earlier films. And I for one, really hope that he does.
The Visit – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”