The Visit (2015) M. Night Shyamalan
Universal DVD – library (1:34)
At least there’s some discussion going on about whether or not The Visit marks a return to something even approaching a good film from M. Night Shyamalan, which has certainly not been the case for quite a few years. As I often try to do before watching a film, I avoided any spoilers, synopses, or even trailers for the film, instead simply putting a hold on the DVD from the library.
I will briefly recount my thoughts, including pleasant surprises, levels of disappointment, and a challenge to Mr. Shyamalan.
This is a “found footage” movie (at least partially), a subgenre of horror films that I’ve really grown tired of watching, but they just won’t go away. (In fact, had I known this, I probably would’ve skipped the film, but as I mentioned before, I wanted to know nothing about The Visit going into it. That can be a blessing and a curse.) This found footage movie includes chapter headings that boldly proclaim MONDAY MORNING, TUESDAY MORNING, etc. in bleeding red (which, of course, would not be present in found footage).
The story itself isn’t bad. A mom (Kathryn Hahn, on laptop) talks on camera about a major turning point in her life: she ran away from home at 19 because her parents did not approve of her boyfriend at the time. Her parents disowned her, but Mom’s two kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge, middle) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould, left) want to spend time with their grandparents (whom they’ve never met), heal some wounds, and document the experience on film. (Becca, we learn quickly, is a young filmmaker. Tyler is a not-very-good rapper, but he provides a bit of comic relief, whether you want it or not.) This is an M. Night Shyamalan film, so strange things happen. All of which is fine and somewhat effective… to a point.
We all know that an M. Night Shyamalan film absolutely must have a twist ending. (Maybe it’s in his contract, I don’t know.) The Visit gleefully obeys this rule but it does so to its own detriment. I won’t spoil it for you, but I thought the film would’ve been far more effective without the twist. The implications of the non-twist ending are even more terrifying and, in fact, offer a whole locked room full of horrors that might just await many of us someday (if they haven’t already).
Which brings me to my real disappointment. To be honest, The Visit isn’t a bad film. In many ways, it’s an effective thriller with sometimes genuine chills and scares. It’s a smaller-scale film than we’ve seen from the director in the past, which is probably a step in the right direction for Shyamalan. But what truly disappoints me is that Shyamalan insists on forcing the twist ending upon us. Mr. Shyamalan, with all due respect, I really don’t care about your twist endings. I care about a good story with good characters I can believe in. You gave me some fairly interesting characters with The Visit, you gave me a few scares, but you felt so tied to your signature twists (which have actually become a ball-and-chain for you), that I’m over them. Way over them. Unfortunately you have let your twist endings define you as an artist, which is unfair to your audience, your art, and yourself. What would I like instead?
Just give me a good story.
You did this with Unbreakable (2000), which I consider your best film. Yes, it had a twist, but the twist was not the master of the film, it was only a player. With Unbreakable, you allowed the audience to get to know these characters, to understand them, breathe their air, and to feel what the universe meant to them. You also gave us a film – perhaps for the only time in your career – that forced us to think beyond its ending, not in a “Wow, that was cool!” way or a “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!” way, but on a much deeper level. By the end of Unbreakable, our minds are engaged and forced to come to grips with the implications of what these events mean for both of its main characters. It’s the only film you’ve made that unsettles us in ways that won’t let us go because the conflict in the film isn’t really over after the credits stop. In fact, you could say it’s the only film you’ve ever made that longs for a sequel (but I hope we never see one, not that you couldn’t pull it off, but that these are ideas and concepts that we all need to wrestle with ourselves as audience members).
Give me good characters. Give me a good story. And challenge me to look at the world in a new way, as you did in Unbreakable. Getting your audience to look at things in a way that challenges them, disturbs them, and fills them with wonder – that’s your twist ending and it’s one that keeps on twisting the longer we think about it. That, Mr. Shyamalan, is my challenge to you. I eagerly await your next film to see if you’ve accepted by challenge.