Holy shit! M. Night Shymalan made a good movie again!
He mostly got out of his own way – directing, producing and writing, but not, say, casting himself as a writer who saves the world or anything. And it looked like it should have had “stinker” written all over it when the dude responsible for The Village took on the now over-saturated genre of found-footage to make The Visit.
Served up by a cast of relative unknowns (aside from Kathryn Hahn, whose comedic chops aren’t at all used in what’s being billed as a horror-comedy) that includes two bland kids – one of whom raps several times on screen, you probably feel compelled to walk out of this write-up, let alone the movie. I promise it’s not brilliant, but it’s much less shittier than all of the ingredients present it as, and it doesn’t have any of the smug, turgid auteur imagery of Signs. It’s stripped to basics for this one.
The plot is straightforward enough: two kids go to visit their grandparents for the first time. Both decide to make a documentary out of it, partly to show their mother, who is estranged from them, just what they got up to. At first it’s all smiles and rapping and baked goods and oven-cleaning. There’s that awkwardness we can all relate to when staying alone with relatives you’ve never actually met before. But then things start to feel a bit off in their own right. Good thing those sprogs have those cameras!
And they’re bloody good cameras, too. This is one of those found-footage movies in which the camera-handling is believable. When the kids are running/playing hide-and-seek, there’s blurry, rapid movement; when they’re interviewing their grandparents or just playing a board game, the angle is static throughout, and the kids will gently push the entire camera to the left a little to get everybody in a continuous master shot. Even when things start to get perilous (“why are they still filming??”) it still works when the recording’s intended for evidential purposes – a turning point for the genre’s gimmick that’s never handled plausibly in other films.
We get some trademark Shymalan characters: well-developed indivduals, yet not 100% likable – i.e., real kids, but just short of annoying. Somehow, you care about these kids, and the talking heads format helps to fast-forward some character development without sacrificing the format or screentime. There are some genuinely sinister vibes throughout (check out that creepy-as-hell song over the end credits), although I’d wished we’d had slightly more post-9:30pm scenes rather than the extended tension-breaks of the day sequences.
The movie’s mix of ultra-black humour and devilishly old-school scares shouldn’t work on paper, especially after reading that Shymalan had three initial cuts: a straight-horror and a straight comedy – so he decided to mix the two. A Shymalan mish-mash of two cuts of a found-footage horror comedy starring two children, one of whom raps. I swear it’s better than it has any right to be. And you’ll never look at a game of Yahtzee the same way again.