An actor acquaintance of mine (he had a small speaking role in “The Happening”) insists that M. Night Shyamalan is a very nice man, and I have no reason to doubt him. And, despite a quartet of clunkers in a row, Mr. Shyamalan has just made a bit of a comeback with “The Visit”. When you make a feature film on a miniscule budget of 5 million bucks, and that film goes on to make over 75 million (and counting)–you’ve got yourself a hit. And I’ve been rooting for M. Night, I really have. If only because his promise was once so great, and I don’t like to kick a man when he’s down. So, bully for him, and the success of “The Visit”. I just wish it was a little better than it is.
Young siblings Rebecca and Tyler (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould, respectively) are sent “upstate” by their single mother, Paula (Kathryn Hahn), for a visit with her parents. Paula is going on a cruise with her boyfriend, and the kids have never met their grandparents. You see, their mom had a big blowout with them years before, and they’ve been estranged for years. But time heals, and when Tyler and Rebecca arrive by train to meet with Nana (theater actress Deanna Dunagan…quite good) and Pop Pop (character actor Peter McRobbie…very effective), everything goes swimmingly. At first. But soon, the youngsters notice strange things their grandparents are doing, and hearing bizarre sounds on the other side of their bedroom door at night. Paula, talking to her kids via Skype, laughs off their concerns with the excuse of her folks being old. But things keep getting weirder…and eventually dangerous.
Full confession–I cheated a little bit on this one. Tired of watching M. Night Shyamalan films, and waiting for his often ridiculous “surprise” twists, I looked up the ending to “The Visit” beforehand. So, I was aware of the “twist” going in. I’ve detected Shyamalan’s deceptions previously, so it probably wasn’t necessary. But I wanted to take that part of the movie out of the equation. The plus of that was–I really got to concentrate on the actors, and a few of them were quite good. Really, strong performances all around. Plus, instinct tells me that many will anticipate that late-film reveal pretty early on. If you do, I suggest you just ignore it and just watch–there are some pretty effective scares and creepy happenings. So, what’s wrong? As usual, M. Night’s script fails him a bit with a combination of obviousness and clumsiness. And the found-footage style? Didn’t really work for me. It seemed superfluous. And the “rapping” of lily-white Tyler got pretty annoying. But it’s not a bad little thriller, and far superior to drivel like “The Village”. So, comeback–yes. Resounding artistic success–not quite.