After the three-punch combo of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, M. Night Shaymalan had established himself not only as a great director, but, at the time, as my personal favorite director. The slide downwards from there was brutal not just for Shaymalan’s career but for my nascent, cinema loving heart. I can’t believe that The Visit, a found-footage film seemingly about crazy old people, will reverse his ten year skid, but some small part of me is still hoping.
This movie shouldn’t be good. M. Night Shaymalan’s rise and then steep fall has forced us to consider a potential turn in fortune from the once promising director to be a near impossibility. And this, his low-budget, Blumhouse-produced take on the found footage genre, reeks even more of a sort of late-career, “I still want to direct” desperation. But if you can, and I beg of you to do so, leave your preconceptions about Shaymalan and the past decade of his shitty films behind, because The Visit is a fucking great film. It’s a simple story: two kids are sent to meet their estranged grandparents on a snowy farm, then things get really, really crazy. Everything you once liked about M. Night Shaymalan is present here: his knack for dialogue, his humor, his cinematography (this might be the prettiest found footage film of all time), his ability to crank the tension slowly and surely until you’re grinding your teeth waiting for something, whatever that might be, to happen, and so much more. Shaymalan plays on our perceptions of the elderly – their dementia, their strange old-person habits, their stories and lack of ability to meld with youth – turning the general decline of getting old up to a fairly horrific level. In doing so he creates a duality where as much as the audience knows there is something very wrong with Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan), you want them to just be old people having a hard time fading into their Golden Years. You feel bad for Pop-Pop and Nana at the same time you’re hiding behind your fingers, praying these poor children don’t get, well, terrible things done to them. It is disconcerting and off-putting in all the right ways. For those terrified of seeing a Shaymalan film because of his legacy of destroying decent films with a unneeded twist ending, you’re in luck, though this film has a reveal, it only works to strengthen the film, to make you tilt your head for a moment before thinking back over everything you’ve seen, a small smile playing out over your face. This is a good movie, a great movie even, but it doesn’t completely refresh my faith in M. Night. He’s done too much bad to just about-face forgive him for his cinematic crimes. A couple more films as good as this though, and my arms will be wide open.
Ed Oxenbould, the kid who plays Tyler, is the real deal. He’ll be famous for three or four years before drunkenly crashing his Lambo on the freeway.