I’m going to do my best to divorce my opinions of the theater I happened to see The Visit in from my opinions of the movie. However, it is with a heavy heart that I say I wanted to really give Shyamalan a fresh chance, but the 5 teenagers behind me he gave a top-of-their-lungs running commentary from start to finish which made that extremely difficult. Especially when, every time something exciting was about to happen, sometimes things that would’ve been unexpected, one of them would scream “This is the part from the preview when…!!” and say it seconds before I got to see it. It almost completely ruined what, as far as I can tell, is a pretty decent thriller from a filmmaker that’s gotten a bit of an unfair deal (although he happened to back that up with a string of pretty lame movies) as far as I’m concerned.
Perhaps I can spin this positive by looking at it this way – despite a smorgasbord of distractions, I found The Visit really engaging, genuinely freaky, and surprisingly weird. It’s about the thing I’m probably most afraid of in this life, old age, which helped add a lot to how unsettling it was for me. There’s maybe a bit of ageism on display, but I think that’s only evidence of how frightened we all are, the filmmaker included, of aging. And I think what the movie does best is use age as a “curse” of sorts, forgoing any supernatural spooky-doings for frighteningly natural, psychological disorders that can manifest themselves in nearly supernatural ways, especially perceived through a child’s eyes. I was pretty impressed by that choice.
Once again, Shyamalan has inserted himself into one his movies. However not as an actor, as he often does, but as a character, that of his young lead, who is an aspiring filmmaker. I recall being really frustrated with his use of himself in Lady In The Water, as well as his use of “The Critic,” and at first I was thrown yet again by this heavy handed approach to dealing with one’s criticisms. But as The Visit progresses and its sort of twisted sense of humor becomes more apparent, so does his self-criticism. No longer is he trying to defend himself through his characters, instead he’s actually got a bit of a sense of humor about the guy that used to forcibly write his worldview into his movies. To me, this was the greatest evidence that he’s maturing as a filmmaker and ready to make interesting films again.
The Visit is sort of being mis-labeled as found footage I think. It’s more a faux-documentary, full of edits and various cues. But it works really well in this story, which I won’t reveal too much more about, and Shyamalan actually creates some really inventive, effective sequences by cutting between the two camera’s our young filmmakers are using throughout the movie. And even in trying to keep it grounded, and looking like it was shot by a couple of kids, his old school formalism still shines through, and the marriage of the two ends up working quite well I think, creating an uneasy atmosphere where anything might happen next, while remaining assured in its storytelling and character work.
Overall I think The Visit is a pretty interesting little movie, especially given the pedigree of the filmmaker and sort of secretive circumstances of its making and release. I’ll be curious to see this again, in the privacy of my own home, and see if it’s even better than I remember, considering any emotional beats that were intended were all undercut by fart noises, blood curdling, out of context screams, and one panicked 13 year old shouting for everyone else to shut the fuck up before they get kicked out. It’s a movie theater in North Philly. They didn’t get kicked out.
The Visit scored ★★★ (out of 5).