By Sam Allen
You never know what to expect from an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Some are bad and others are worse, but Shyamalan’s new horror flick, The Visit, actually has some good qualities. The film follows two siblings, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) on a visit with their estranged grandparents, whom they are meeting for the first time. The whole film is captured through Becca’s camera as she makes a documentary about her fractured family life with the intention of reuniting her mother and her grandparents, who have not spoken in 15 years. When the children meet their grandparents, they discover that their grandparents are both strange at best and senile at worst.
Interestingly, the film was funnier than it was scary, and that almost seemed to be its intention. The children were both well-rounded and compelling characters. The hand-held documentary style filmmaking even avoided the pitfalls that most found footage films succumb to. The majority of the camerawork was steady and did not resort to “shaky cam” in order to build tension. Though this film wasn’t scary in the conventional sense, it was successful in building suspense and providing a couple of good jump scares.
Becca, who is a fifteen-year-old film enthusiast, attempts to keep her cool while her wise-cracking, hip-hop loving, younger brother Tyler suspects something nefarious is going on with his grandparents. When their grandfather tells the children that their grandmother has dementia, Becca tries to be considerate, but Tyler doesn’t buy it. In spite of Becca’s voice of reason, Tyler investigates his grandparents and discovers some pretty disturbing things, and the kids stick together as their grandparents grow progressively more unhinged.
The relationship between Becca and Tyler is one of the things that made this film work. Neither of the kids are angsty and part of what makes them funny are their attempts to sound more adult. The film pokes fun at itself and other documentary filmmakers by having the children spout out filmmaking buzzwords like “Mis-en-scene.” The documentary format also allows the children to show their vulnerable sides, which gives them just the right amount of depth without making them sappy.
I was, however, disappointed in the direction The Visit decided to take. This film had the potential to say something really profound about the elderly and I began to wonder if the true horror was what the grandparents were going through. Since the tone of the film was more humorous than creepy, I expected that the deteriorating health among the elderly might be the subtext of this film. Instead, Shyamalan decides to exploit the mentally ill, rather than exploring the terror of losing one’s mind as a person begins to age. This cheapened the movie’s potential.
The film’s lack of general creepiness didn’t detract from the film as a whole because Becca and Tyler’s personalities were enough to make it interesting. The Visit was genuinely entertaining and unique in its form, but the twist ending left a bad taste in my mouth. During the last 20 or so minutes of the film, The Visit goes from 0 to 100 in what might have been a good horror movie, if it wasn’t so generic. The film took the cop-out criminally insane route and was far less compelling than all the directions it could have gone..
The Visit does nothing but perpetuate negative, and also false, stereotypes of the mentally ill and elderly. These are two groups of people in our society who need patience and care, but are instead written off as “crazy” or “senile”. Ideals like this are what make it difficult for the mentally ill to get the treatment they need and deserve. The film shadows our society’s fear and unwillingness to deal with or understand people living with mental illness. In general, films like this hurt the most vulnerable people in our society and paint them as crazed maniacs. Twists like this need to stop. So yes, The Visit was scary, but only because it paints a picture in which people who need help are to be feared.