Thursday, 8 October 2015


There can be few directors who went from having the world at their feet to a subject of scorn as rapidly as M. Night Shyamalan. After his critically and commercially successful smash, the excellent Sixth Sense, he followed it up with a cult classic in the form of Unbreakable. Personally I loved Signs and I thought The Village was a good, but not great little movie. I even thought The Lady In The Water was a brilliant homage to the family friendly sci-fi/fantasy flicks of the Eighties, a combination of Batteries Not Included, Splash and The Neverending Story.
However, these films mark the point at which the backlash against Shyamalan's films began, and the less said about the spectacular misfires that were The Happening and The Last Airbender the better. 
After Earth marked a slight improvement in his fortunes (although the double team of Will and Jaden Smith probably had a significant part in that), before he abandoned feature films to handle the reins of cult TV smash, Wayward Pines.
Which brings us to Shyamalan's latest effort, The Visit, a return to the smaller scale dark thrillers with which he made his name. Early word of mouth has been pretty good, so could this be the return to form that we've all been waiting for?
Read on…

THE VISIT (2015)

Dir: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jorge Cordova, Benjamin Kanes, Ocean James, Seamus Moroney

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Young budding filmmaker Rebecca (DeJonge) and her little brother Tyler (Oxenbould) are about to meet their grandparents for the first time. After their mother Paula (Hahn) met their father there was a serious family argument — which she refuses to discuss with her children — and since then she has not spoken to them.
Now the siblings' father has left them and Paula's parents have since contacted her over the internet and asked if they can meet their grandchildren.
Paula is unconvinced but the two children, especially Becca, want to go, saying they'd like to spend a week with their estranged grandparents while their mum gets to enjoy a relaxing cruise with her new boyfriend.
Despite her initial misgivings, Paula agrees and Rebecca decides to document the whole thing, from packing their bags, to their mother waving them off at the train station and beyond.
When they finally reach their destination in rural Pennsylvania, they are met by the kind and elderly Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie).
However, as they spend more time with the pair, Becca and aspiring rapper Tyler start to suspect that something is wrong with their grandparents. From moments of confusion to unsettling outbursts, it soon becomes clear that they are almost certainly starting to suffer dementia and — after Pop Pop explains that Nana suffers with a condition called sundowning, whereby her mental state deteriorates as the day progresses, and his own incontinence is discovered — soon the children find themselves instructed to stay in their room after bedtime at 9.30pm.
What starts as an in-turn mildly amusing or desperately sad situation soon takes a dark turn when Pop Pop's aggressive paranoia and Nana's night-time rampages become even worse. What is going on at the house? Will the children ever discover the truth about the day their mother left? And will they even live long enough to?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): This may sound like a strange thing for a self-confessed Shyama-fan to say, but arguably The Visit's biggest strength is how much it feels unlike a typical M. Night film.
First off, it's found-footage (I know, I know, bear with me), so that instantly flies in the face of the cold, meticulous, almost clinically lot and framed shots that is a trademark of the director's style. The fact that 15 year old Becca is clearly presented as a serious of student of film does give Shyamalan an out when he's unable to resist a particularly stunning shot, but for the most part, the film is considerably more frenetic than anything I've seen from him before.
What's more, while Shyamalan is well-known for taking pretty outlandish premises and presenting them in a restrained, low-key and very po-faced manner (well, the odd foil hat excluded) The Visit is actually very funny. It happily embraces its own wackiness, giving the young leads plenty of quips and running with the ridiculously sinister antics of the elderly antagonists with almost reckless abandon. It's a side of Shyamalan that I've never seen before, displaying a wry sense of humour that has been absent until now.
That's not to say that this is a weaker story than any of his previous works — far from it, once again Shyamalan is able to craft a delicately layered mystery and the characteristion, if a little heavy-handed at times, is once again a surprisingly moving look at people coping with life-altering events.
Now, I know what the vast majority of you are wondering — does this film have a big twist? I'm a little reticent to discuss the intricacies of the plot here but I will say that there is a quite shocking reveal late on in the movie that certainly ups the ante somewhat. However, this is far from the huge game-changer of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, instead feeling like an organic development that plunges the film into the final act rather than defining it. I didn't see it coming and I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Of course, a decent plot can be well and truly ham-strung by an inadequate cast. Thankfully that isn't the case here.
A couple of minor wobbles early on aside, both DeJonge and Oxenbould are excellent. They have great chemistry — their rapport feels natural and, with it, we are instantly given more reason to care about them as their relationship becomes all the more believable. Both are given some very emotional scenes and both deliver the goods when it counts.
On this showing I really do believe that young Miss DeJonge could well be a name to look out for in the future.
Elsewhere the excellent Hahn does a superb job during her limited screen time. She's a polished actress and does a great job of pulling her scenes together. It's just a shame she's not on the screen for longer.
However, THE actors to watch in The Visit are the frankly astonishing Dunagan and the equally spellbinding McRobbie. Both show fantastic range, taking their characters along arcs that see them as warm and likeable, then sad and sympathetic and finally legitimately frightening. What's more, both provide brave utterly committed performances, from Dunagan's nudity and McRobbie's feinted incontinence, to the physical way in which they hurl their whole bodies into key scenes, such as Pop Pops assault on a passerby and the way in which Nana gallops backwards and forwards during her moonlight sojourns. 
They are a vital part of the success of the film and without their tremendous performances it would be significantly weaker. Both really are that brilliant.
It's no coincidence that the work of Dunagan and McRobbie utterly encapsulates the very best of The Visit, a complex blend of laughs and scares. Shyamalan has said he produced three cuts of the film, one deathly serious, one a goofy comedy and this, the final cut, which falls somewhere in the middle. It is the blend of light and dark that really makes this film stand out, having audiences flinching, shrieking and giggling, often all at once. The laughs are well-deserved (the script has plenty of wit about it) and the scares exquisitely crafted. I never thought I'd find senior citizens creepy — between this and The Taking of Deborah Logan I've been well and truly proven wrong!
Despite the way in which many moviegoers feel about both Found Footage and Shyamalan, The Visit looks fantastic and it has a cheeky, quirky heart.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As much as I enjoyed The Visit, it isn't without its flaws.
Unfortunately, the biggest of those is a Shyamalan trademark — the serendipitous manner in which previously mentioned events play a major role in the finale (a lá Signs). I personally don't need every single element tied up in a bow at the end of a film, sometimes things can be said without EVERYTHING becoming a major part of the climax. 
The ending also suffers from some unnecessary schmaltziness, plus it seems to actually have about three consecutive endings tacked on one after the other. I won't spoil them but the last one at the very least could have been easily excised.
Which, in a round-about way, brings us to the next major flaw. As likeable as DeJonge and Oxenbould are, both characters are prone to moments of irritating precociousness. Both occasionally spout lines far more mature than the typical language of a 15- and 13-year-old. What's more, while it's clearly played for laughs and meant to make for a loveable personality quirk, Tyler's rapping is very annoying. Each time he started I found my fists and jaw clenching involuntarily — it really is that bad.
Another misstep in the otherwise great script was the rather unnecessary use of poop gags. It works in the likes of South Park, but when we're talking about senility it would perhaps have been better to leave these moments (not least THAT scene late on) on the cutting room floor.
On a storyline note, while the big reveal is wonderfully executed, it is quite easy to pick some holes in the story afterwards, many of which are to do with exactly how awful a mother Paula must be for this exact scenario to have unfolded. It can just about be explained away but even so, it does hit the film somewhat.
Finally, while we're on the subject of Hahn's Paula, it really is a shame that she's so criminally under-utilised. She's a really very excellent actress and it's a crying shame that she wasn't given more to do with the role.

THE VERDICT: The Visit is a really, really good, fun film. Is it a return to the form of Shyamalan's career highs of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable? No, it isn't, but it is a massive improvement on the likes of The Happening and The Last Airbender. It's something of a departure for Shyamalan, an experiment outside his comfort zone, one that he actually shot and produced with his own money, away from the influences of studio backers, and while there are a couple of slips here and there, it's a risk that pays off. 
Strangely this is a film I can recommend to both fans of Shyamalan's work AND those who dislike his typical output.
The Visit is still playing in cinemas so do give it a shot.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.


  1. Nice review man. It was nice to see a Shyamalan movie where the ending wasn't some other worldly godforsaken twist.

    1. Agreed, it was really nice to see MNS branching out a bit. Thanks for your kind words and thanks for reading!