Monday 14 September 2015

The Visit

Visiting Rights

The Visit
2015 USA
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
UK cinema release print.

Warning: I guess there’s a kind of spoiler 
by ommision in here, in some ways.


So here I am again reviewing another M. Night Shyamalan movie and having a bit of a bad time with it because he’s a director I really admire but he seems to be caught up in this trap of making something similar, in people’s expectations, to old episodes of The Twilight Zone and, while there’s nothing wrong with this... it has to be said that his films set you up so that, when you watch them the first time, you know there’s a twist coming. Unfortunately, they’re always so easy to see way before they happen. The Sixth Sense, for instance, is something that most audiences would twig about twenty minutes into the movie. The Village was even worse in that it takes a few seconds to see the ending, when the second, reverse angle of the opening shot kicks in. So that can be a problem.

And, unfortunately for this director, who really does make great and interesting movies, the other side of that coin he now seems almost doomed to perpetually flip is when he doesn’t bother having a twist in the movie at all... like Signs, for instance. It was a great little film from what I can remember of it but I was distracted the entire length of the movie trying to figure out what the twist was and, when there wasn’t one... I just felt kinda cheated and like I’d been wasting my time, to be honest. Again, not Shyamalan’s fault as it’s the expectations set up in the audience which has done him in for making films which are held up to that kind of scrutiny. For me the most succesful of the ones he’s directed himself was Unbreakable.

Alas, The Visit is another lesson in how to not get fooled by M. Night Shyamalan’s twisty movie making. Although, to be fair, he really does try to pull the wool over the eyes of the audience with the blatant introduction of ideas suggesting lycanthropy, demons and aliens... the very introduction of those elements into the dialogue of the film renders them immediately powerless as options for what the twist ending of this movie is but, by then, it’s far too late and pretty much everyone, I would have thought, would have worked out just what the heck is really going on in this story of an estranged mother’s children going to visit the grandparents they’ve never met, while she goes off and does her own thing for a week.

In truth, there were a dozen ways to have ended this story but Shyamalan decides to take a route less interesting and more humdrum in the way the storyline goes, peppering it with clues enough for you to work it out in such a clumsy way, sometimes, that you wonder if, in fact, they are not more red herrings. By the end of the movie, you’ll realise that this is not a horror film at all and something much safer and, perhaps, a little less special than what you might have hoped for. The dead giveaway for the whole thing is when the camera on the eldest of the two children’s laptop gets damaged... that kind of says it all, I think, in terms of where the writer is going with the ending.

It’s still fairly well constructed in terms of the visual content and the editing, though, and the director makes full use of the fact that it’s a film shot as a documentary (yeah, it’s similar to a found footage movie in that respect) and all done through the camera eyes of mostly the two young children, one of whom is shooting the aforementioned documentary. Because it is shot like this, therefore, Shyamalan can sometimes get away with inserting an establishing shot into the film, since the fictional director of the piece could, also, easily do that. It has to be said, though, that despite the pedestrian subject matter of the story, as it turns out, the director still does manage to deliver edge of the seat tension when it comes to the antics of Pop Pop, played by Peter McRobbie and, especially, the personae of the grandmother, played with carefree creepiness by Deanna Dunagan.

A hide and seek sequence under the house, for example, is especially intense and everything in the film seems set up to make the most of the little moments by bringing scarifying sequences, which turn out to be something completely different, to the table. These allow the small sequences, such as the oven cleaning scene which is the punchline to the trailers put out for this movie, shine in relation to the bigger picture. Unfortunately, the terrific performances of everyone here, including the two main child protagonists played by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould (who are absolutley brilliant) doesn’t succeed in lifting the film out of the rut it gets stuck in for the last third or suceeed in distracting too much from the direction that the story heads in by the end of the film.

Another big thing missing, and this is again due to the nature of the format the writer/director chose to shoot this movie in, is my main pleasure in seeing a new Shyamalan feature... that of the musical score. His regular collaborator is James Newton Howard and the composer always, whether the film is a good ‘un or not, manages to knock out a truly amazing score for this director’s films. Alas, a couple of “found tracks” are all that are included in this movie but, it’s what would work best for the credibility of the film, to be sure, so one can hardly blame Shyamalan for doing this. I’m sure most people would have gone with that decision given the format the film is trying explore.

And that’s my really short review of this one done. It’s not a terrible film, for sure, and I reckon most people who choose to see this thing at the cinema will not go away feeling like they've wasted their time. There are some nice little visual shock moments and some small comedy moments, too, which work pretty well. A lot of people will have fun with this to some extent, I am sure, and I think this is always a director worth crossing over the road for, just to see what he’s up to next. Not a film I can ever imagine revisiting myself but not a total loss either, as long as you don’t expect any kind of revelation at the end. I’ve read a review on a high profile film site which accused the movie of having a lot of plot holes. Pondering that, I think that’s not an accusation that holds much water. Some things, such as the granny freaking out over the possibility of having to impart certain information, for instance, doesn’t contradict things too much when you realise the bigger picture, as evidenced by a key photograph towards the end of the film, for example. There are some valid cinematic moments in here, I think, even if they might not make sense right away when you reflect on them later. So, yeah, The Visit is an interesting film rather than a mind blowingly good one but, there’s no crime in that and I’m kinda looking forward to seeing what Shyamalan does with his next one, for sure. This one didn’t do too much for me though.

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