M. Night Shyamalan takes on the found footage genre with The Visit, a 2015 film that attempts to toy with juvenile fears and winds up twisting itself into a dippy pretzel. It is interesting to see the Sixth Sense director attempt to handle his business with a smaller budget, but he does little to avoid aesthetic excess and veers away from actual tension in favour of jump scares and cheap gags.
Creed cinematographer Maryse Alberti shoots the action and that’s part of the problem. The audience is asked to believe that the cameras are handled by a pair of precocious teenagers, one of whom is a nascent filmmaker in her own mind, but the use of establishing shots and inventive angles is the stuff of surplus.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her little brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are off to spend a week with their grandparents. What’s more, their mother Paula (Kathryn Hahn) ran away from home at the age of 19. She won’t tell her kids what her reasons were and she takes off on a cruise with her new boy toy while the offspring is shipped off to her estranged folks.
Becca and Tyler are thrilled to meet two strange old people, with Rebecca filming the entire experience to provide some sort of documentary of the experience. The kids meet Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) with hugs and cookies and all that, but it soon becomes apparent that something very weird is going on.
It is difficult to contend with the sheer madness of the premise, but said madness is essential to get Shyamalan where he urgently wants to go. The Visit asks audiences to make several excuses along the way to his Big Twist and it paints a pretty enough picture in places, but the characters are hard to take and the plot is asinine.
Becca serves as the delegation for the director, as she makes erudite comments about the use of an ironic score (yes, the movie closes with an ironic score) and telegraphs many of Shyamalan’s cinematic calisthenics. She belts out pretentious words, but she’s not too bright when it comes to doing simple things like not scuttling all the way inside a damn oven when bizarre strangers are afoot.
And make no mistake about it, the grandparents of the picture are strangers. It pays to remember that these kids do not know who they are visiting. They’ve never even seen them before, but Mother of the Year sends them off to a general meeting place for an entire week of fun and games with the very people she ran away from. Holy shit.
Shyamalan, who also wrote this thing, nudges his way to the twist with what he believes are sparks of black comedy and sinister horror. This amounts to an hour and a half of watching old people behave oddly while the two supposedly astute adolescents make a variety of justifications. Nobody behaves reasonably in this world, but at least two of the freaks have an excuse.
In some respects, Shyamalan probably believes he’s sending up the child-in-peril genus with little crunches of humour. But his comedic command leaves a lot to be desired, especially when his attempts involve more than one gag related to incontinence and a pre-geriatric scene in which Tyler raps while a besieged train worker provides beatboxing.
As with most found footage pieces, there are a lot of questions about why the damn camera is around in such inopportune moments. Shyamalan pushes this to the limit, with Rebecca hanging onto the camera in any and all circumstances and Tyler following suit when the action requires more than one angle. There are interposing shots of trees and stuff, too, just to make it all look arty.
It’s tempting to want to give Shyamalan a good-natured handshake for not bothering to take The Visit seriously, especially given his run of generally dubious fare. But there’s little by way of tension or comedy to be found in this yawn-inducing jaunt to senior citizen hell. It’s is a tough slog, contributing scant scares, imaginary laughs and an adult diaper right in the kisser. Holy shit.