Why hasn't anyone done this before? Grandparents are the killers. It just makes sense, and with M. Night at the helm, the concept is simple and weird enough to actually work. I can honestly say had someone else had creative control I probably wouldn't have been as enthusiastic as I was when this was announced. Of course there's been screenings at various cons here and there, and of course most people walked out with smiles, but I wasn't completely ready for the hype train until I saw the film's first trailer. A live-action twist on Hansel and Gretel without Jeremy Renner? Count me in.
While the film was lesser a fairy-tale than I originally thought, I was still pleasantly surprised with what Shyamalan was able to cook up. In this film we have two young kids, a brother and a sister. She wants to make films, and the trip to meet their grandparents is the perfect opportunity to film her first documentary. Little does she know, her grandparent's aren't exactly how they expected them to be. In fact, they're pretty friggin' creepy. So, while her intentions were good, the movie she had in mind won't be happening. If you haven't guessed by now, this is another found footage film. Save your groans because I have some good news. The approach actually works this time. Instead of cheating its way out of the motivation problem that plagues most of the genre, The Visit puts it front and center, allows things to play out, and comes off quite refreshing because of which.
In fact, my favorite thing about this movie is the way in which the gimmick is used. I can't stand the films that market themselves as found footage but can't take it to the bank. In The Gallows, for example, there's jump scares aplenty, unnecessary music, and countless other shit that takes you out of the illusion. Unlike The Gallows, The Visit works because the pointless sound effects or things that wouldn't actually happen are absent from what's supposed to be a budding filmmaker's first attempt. Aside from the opening and closing credits, that list the cast and crew, everything feels like a homegrown feature. That, in itself, is pretty impressive. By approaching the genre with classical storytelling rather than the tired methods we see every few weeks, The Visit succeeds while other films with similar devices appear that much more uninspired.
The Visit is not a great movie, but for what it is, I did enjoy it. For one, it's a very small budget film. In fact, it's Shyamalan's lowest budget studio feature. Shyamalan reportedly used his fee from the Will Smith produced science-fiction story, After Earth to self-produce this project. Some reports have indicated that Will Smith actually directed After Earth, and Shyamalan just helped with shot setups. In Shyamalan's own words, The Visit was "an attempt to regain artistic control" after his recent movies had been denied final cut, and were even taken away from him in post-production. With no idea if the film would ever be released, Shyamalan left the Hollywood system to make a small movie with a few handpicked actors. This time, he was able to call the shots, and didn't have anyone making suggestions or whispering "welcome to Miami" in his ear. Apparently dealing with The Fresh Prince was worth the trouble, because this is quite possibly M. Night's best outing since 2004.
According to statements made on Twitter, M. Night Shyamalan prepared three different cuts of the film. One that was "pure comedy", another that was "pure horror", and a final one, the one we see, that falls "somewhere in between." I'm not talking laughing because you're not supposed to, a la The Happening. This time Shyamalan encourages us to get in on the joke. There's a lot of truly good humor working here, largely through the brother character. This kid is sensational. He's an aspiring rapper, he wants to get famous on YouTube, and he will, often in the middle of a random conversation, start busting a rhyme when he probably shouldn't. Come to think of it, both of the kids were pretty fantastic, but it's the grandparents that were especially great. You have to understand that for a kid, experiencing these really strange things with their Nana and Pop Pop, it's going to feel very awkward. You're going to want to laugh, but you're not sure if you should, and Shyamalan captured that tone perfectly.
So, is this M. Night's comeback? It's hard to say really. I mean, It's a fun flick, and it's definitely his most competent film in years. I just didn't find the film particularly scary, and I wanted a bit more scary. The Visit is more along the lines of a fun, comical adventure with random thrills peppered in. These kids are discovering something creepy, so they grab cameras and film it. Whether you like it or not, you're along for the ride. You truly feel the adventure. Sure, there are certain aspects of this movie that don't quite work, but because of the solid performances it's pretty easy to look past the few faults. If you liked Goosebumps when you were a kid then it's going to be hard not to appreciate Shyamalan's labor of love, The Visit.