The Visit (2015) & M. Night Shyamalan Q&A
How the mighty have fallen eh? This seems like an apt summation of some film-makers careers, those bright lights that blaze with a intense fury across the media landscape, a debut or sophomore film which for some reason strikes a chord with the public and the cultural temperature of the time. Those were my initial thoughts when I was invited to a preview screening of M. Night Shyamalan’s new film The Visit, a prospect rendering me slightly more interested in finally visiting the new screening facilities than I was in seeing the one-time wunderkid of suspense cinema in a post screening Q&A. Where once he sailed high as the critical and commercial darling of The Sixth Sense, stridently hailed in certain places as the new Spielberg his career has taken a icarus alike fall in the 21st century, with the unintentional hilarious The Happening, the cringe worthy Another Earth and unfortunately named The Last Airbender all failing to connect with audiences or critics alike. Somehow he still manages to leverage purse strings for production budgets, his modest yet being The Visit, a project which also appears to have sneaked onto the ‘found footage’ bandwagon with predictably tedious results. Does the sprawling landscape of suspense and mystery movies really need another verite violation? No, of course it doesn’t, but this isn’t the total disaster that a horrendous trailer and Shymalan’s fading reputation suggests…..
The spine-chilling terror hinges on what could be a terrifying prospect for some – a visit to see Grandma and Grandpa. Rebecca (Olivia De Jonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbold) are the two siblings of single mom Paula (Kathryn Hahn), the former a keen budding filmmaker who plans to make a documentary of the vacation with the now ubiquitous portable digital camera. Rebecca does have an ulterior plan, as her mom fell out with her parents causing her to leave home when she was young, all due to some secret infraction that has kept them asunder over the past fifteen years – so maybe a visual piece could prompt some reconciliation. Rebecca has some body image issues, while her brother suffers from a mild germ related OCD, two conditions that arose when their father left them a few years ago. Arriving at their home in wintry Pennsylvania initially the grandchildren warm to their sundered elders, keeping in touch with Paula through regular skype sessions. Alas though this is a Shyamalan picture so things are not always what they seem, as the grandparents behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and portentous, out all alone with them in their remote, winterlocked family domicile……
Tyler, the younger kid raps. He raps around three times in this film. It is embarrassing and I didn’t know where to look. IO have to say though that the audience I saw this with found these sequences adorable judging by the reaction, so maybe I’m just being a horrible old grouch. It may sound like damning with faint praise, but this film wasn’t as bad as anticipated, in fact it has a few well-constructed sequences, but these are few and far between in what I must label as something of a viewing slog. It has the feel of Shymalan getting something of his system, a mood piece, an experimental work shot in few dozens of days rather than a protracted, bloated, big studio behemoths he’s vomited into our laps recently, but whereas that verite immediacy can spark some genuine chills The Visit struggles to raise the hackles. The thumbscrews are tightened over the course of a week which is really far too long, but once the twist is revealed – oh c’mon, this is a Shyamalan film so of course you knew there’s a twist coming – the gears shift upward for a fairly tense final act, and by this point you’ve mostly forgotten about the tedious asides to the camera or the excuses to just drop the fucking thing and run for your life. I just didn’t once find this genuinely scary, other than the tedious jump scare / cattle prod incident there really isn’t enough to get your teeth into, even if the director has engineered some redemptive resolution for his characters absences which he programmes into every single one of his movies – a priest resurrecting his faith, a man coming to terms with his demise.
The Q&A was fairly entertaining, and having heard some rather disquieting things about the man over the years – that he was completely obsessed with himself and his genius, that he treats assistants and lackeys with the whole ‘do you know who I am?’ treatment – he seemed like a genuinely friendly and enthusiastic guy. Yes, he was a trifle pretentious at times (I know, I know, pot, kettle black right?) but fairly eloquent when he came to explaining his craft, asserting that everything comes down to character and they should drive the plot, master the narrative, rather than imprint cinematic tropes like twists and turns purely for the sake of sensationalism. timing. It was quite amusing to learn that he was offered the gig for Life Of Pi which he turned down, to the tune of $600 million at the domestic box office and the Academy Award as he good humouredly recalled, and fans of Unbreakable which has built its own cult following yes he would do a sequel but there isn’t any script. So not a bad evening and the cinema itself will get a better report another time (all the press screenings for the LFF are being held here post 7th October so I’ll probably test drive all the screens), if you’re bored then maybe give The Visit a, erm, visit, if you lower your expectations you might find the experience worthwhile. How’s that for a passive-aggressive recommendation?