After the turn of the century, everyone kind of gave up on M. Night Shyamalan. Though he entered the ’00s on a wave of critical acclaim with Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense, he steadily lost steam with dud after dud until the hotly anticipated Last Airbender broke the spirit of everyone who saw it and ended the public’s patience with the director.
Now, Jason Blum, the man behind the ongoing found footage renaissance, has given him a $5 million soapbox. Shyamalan stood on that soapbox and said nothing, his only communication, a long, throbbing middle finger to everyone, including his new benefactor, and that middle finger is titled The Visit.
The Visit tells the story of Rebecca and Tyler Jamison (Olivia De Jonge and Ed Oxenbould), pre-pubescent siblings who are spending the week with their maternal grandparents, Doris and John Jamison (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie), whom they have never met because of a falling out they and their mother (Kathryn Hahn) had before they were born. Rebecca brings her cameras along to document the adventure and quickly deputizes her little brother — yeah, it’s found footage. The trip immediately becomes a nightmare when the children discover their hosts are mentally ill, to put it mildly.
The Visit is a middle finger to everyone who thought Shyamalan had lost his spark. On the surface and on as many sub-surface levels as one could count, The Visit is a brilliant movie. The dichotomy between horror and horror satire is impossibly nuanced. I have never laughed so hard at a movie while in the same moment being so wholly terrified. Tonally, there isn’t anything like this movie. It is at once far-fetched and silly and deadly serious.
The Visit is a middle finger to Blumhouse, found footage and the state of horror in general. The film finally gets back to the promise the subgenre presented in The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity — a true, first-person horror movie. It’s not just well-shot, there’s a ton of technique and meta jokes. When she first gives Tyler the second camera, Rebecca tells him to stick to the safe square formalism that she’s using, setting up a dichotomy in their camerawork when he mocks her for it.
At the same time, the film brazenly disrespects the conceit in ways that simply must be intentional. In one scene toward the end, the camera quickly pans from Doris to John and back across the children, at once creating another scene with the hectic found footage feel and great camerawork and daring the audience to ask who’s moving the camera. The Visit exacerbates, mocks and corrects found footage movies’ many flaws all at the same time.
The Visit is a middle finger to pretty much anything Shyamalan doesn’t like. Tyler replaces his curse words with female pop star’s names — Shakira is shit, Katy Perry is fuck. More than once, someone claiming to be an actor breaks into a soliloquy at the sight of the camera to be awkwardly shut down by Rebecca.
In a way, The Visit is a middle finger to Shyamalan himself. The twist ending he’s known for, which was absent in his last movie, After Earth, makes its return here, and while his best movies have twists that are both well-hidden and built up to over the course of the movie, this one is telegraphed, lame and takes away from the rest of the story. The twist is so forgettable and impactless and the rest of the film so brilliant, I’m inclined to say this was intentional as well.
The Visit will go into wide release Sept. 11.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. I think we should respect people for standing up for what they believe in even if we don’t agree with them. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.