Indy Datta reviews M. Night Shyamalan’s low-budget horror flick. After the jump, you will find both things that go bump in the night and real no-fooling spoilers.
The twist, in the end, is the killer blow. In case you haven’t yet got the hint, I’ll be spoiling the twist.
M. Night’s Shyamalan latest, self-financed, film is a found-footage style horror-comedy about a pair of adolescent siblings (Rebecca, played by Olivia de Jonge, and the younger Tyler, played by Ed Oxenbould, who has an extraordinarily resistible sideline in comic raps) who are packed off by their single mother (Kathryn Hahn) for a week-long visit to her parents, whom they have never laid eyes on, and from whom she is estranged, for reasons that she won’t divulge on camera to Rebecca, who is making a documentary about the visit, a film she hopes will help her mother and her grandparents to heal the rift between them.
When they arrive at their grandparents’ (“Nana and Pop-Pop” – as the kids, to escalatingly grating effect, call them – played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) remote farmstead, there are occasional warning signs that the pair are unpredictable and, at the very least, a little strange (Pop-pop also issues a stern warning not to go in the basement, because of mould; hands up who thinks the real reason is something else?!). Things are worse at night, and worse each night, as Nana wanders the house – at first doing nothing more worrying than moaning and projectile vomiting on the floor, but graduating through clawing at the walls while stark bollock naked to, eventually, trying to break into the children’s locked bedroom while brandishing a massive kitchen knife.
Rather than, as would seem sensible if they weren’t neck deep in a quintessential Idiot Plot, immediately getting the fuck out of Dodge, Rebecca and Tyler ask their holidaying mother for advice over Skype and confront their grandparents, who chalk their own erratic behaviour up to, variously, Nana’s suffering from Sundown Syndrome (Rebecca Googles this, just like you just did), and just plain ornery old age (Pop-Pop’s own geriatric eccentricities include filling a shed with piles of his faeculent used adult nappies and whaling on innocent passers-by in the nearby town while under the misapprehension that they’ve been following him). Seems legit, let’s stay and carry on with this documentary. Maybe try a bit of hidden camera filming as well.
Rebecca ropes Tyler in as her B camera-op – conveniently she has a second camera in her bag, that mom retrieved from the will-this-do lost property bin at work. Neither Rebecca’s camcorder, nor Tyler’s DSLR is a convincing source of the footage we actually see, for a host of reasons I’ve just decided I’m not going to be so boring as to elucidate, slap me if I slip, but Shyamalan does attempt a diegetic justification of the application of his usual distinctively tedious visual style (characterised by indiscriminate use of banally off-kilter framing, truncated eyelines, extreme shallow focus and other superficially employed tics) to the found-footage subgenre by getting Rebecca to give Tyler a short lecture on effective shooting (small mercies: he at least on this occasion has elected not to direct his actors to deliver all their lines very slowly for no discernible reason). The extended cut of the film will doubtless include the mysteriously deleted scene where Rebecca gives Nana the same lecture so that when Nana, just before she tries to break into the kids’ room, picks up the DSLR from where Tyler has hidden it (with a somehow still-live battery, don’t worry, I’m slapping myself), she knows to drop it on the upstairs landing floor at an artfully canted angle, maybe on some kind of previously carefully-placed and moulded bean bag, so as to better frame her assault on their bedroom door.
Putting reductive snark about Shyamalan’s film making aside (albeit with some regret), the middle section of the film shows some potential, although the script lacks focus and clarity and is overloaded with scattershot allusions and signifiers that might be confused by the generous with ideas or themes. But there’s the germ of something there in the notion that the difference between a family member with problems and a monster may just be a matter of perspective. There’s one particular, startlingly contrapuntal, throwaway moment (barn, shotgun) which hints at achieving Shyamalan’s ambition to use genre tools to complex ends.
But, here’s the twist: they’re not the real grandparents! The real grandparents are dead in a bin in the basement. They’re just a couple of crazy people from the mental hospital where the real Nana and Pop-Pop used to volunteer. At a stroke, the whole film is rendered meaningless – it’s just two random crazy people doing crazy things (and the calumny against the mentally troubled is the film’s rather than mine); nothing can matter from this point but the scares and the laughs. And, as one of the film’s twin climaxes involves Pop-Pop basically just standing around in the kitchen taunting Tyler into taking him down (including by way of smearing his shitty nappies in the boy’s face, so yay for the movies), which Tyler eventually achieves simply enough by football tackling him into the refrigerator (in the one actually funny moment of the film, in that its echo of “See, swing away” from Signs is endlessly, if inadvertently hilarious, so, yeah, no laughs), real scares aren’t on the agenda, because Shyamalan doesn’t commit to them. The Visit isn’t just shit, it’s soft. Like the contents of those nappies, it’s literal poppycock.