M. Night Shyamalan has had a hat trick of disappointments in recent years. The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth all suffered from being too ambitious and not having enough of the originality for which the playful director has become known for. There’s a sense that he lost his mojo amid the excesses of Hollywood filmmaking. So, it’s a pleasure to report that his independently-produced and studio-released new film, The Visit, is a clear return to form.
The set-up is deceptively simple, but nothing is simple in Shyamalan’s world. Mother (Kathryn Hahn) comes into contact with her parents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie) for the first time in 15 years. While she takes a holiday, she thinks it’s time for her two teenage children to meet their grandparents. Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) is an aspiring documentary filmmaker, while her precocious brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) wants to be a rapper. They decide to document their time at Nana and Pop-Pop’s house, as the family comes together again. Settling into a week with their grandparents, Rebecca and Tyler soon notice some very odd and disturbing behaviour by both Nana and Pop-Pop. Nana runs around the house at night scratching at the walls and Pop-Pop hides something in the shed and likes to put a shotgun in his mouth… Just what is going on?
The story came to Shyamalan gradually while recovering from an operation after a knee injury. It’s a clever concept, turning the oft-used theory of scary children on its head. How about scary old people this time? Their behaviour could just be eccentric… or is there something more sinister going on? The presence of Blumhouse’s logo at the start of the film would suggest a supernatural aspect and there are hints… but Shyamalan likes to play with audience expectations.
He has that Spielbergian quality to him about film being a communal experience in a darkened room with other strangers. He is the audience as much as the director. He creates some genuinely creepy, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, well-choreographed and lit by Maryse Alberti. It’s not a found footage film (we’ve had too many of those), but an unsettling documentary of sorts. The two kids in it are excellent, driving the story while remaining funny and terrified at the same time. It’s great to see Shyamalan return to unpredictable filmmaking where nothing seems certain. A dark fairytale of sorts, The Visit is by turns wryly humourous, scary, disturbing and brimming with the director’s mischievous imagination. Welcome back, Mr Shyamalan. We missed you.
Rating : 4/5