In 1999, a smaller, lower-budget film came out called The Sixth Sense and it started a revolution. The spectacular direction, the amazingly well written script, an ending you’d never see coming — it changed the way people looked at cinema. Who was at the helm of this masterpiece? An unknown filmmaker named M. Night Shyamalan. All of the sudden, he was everywhere in the news and the subject of much praise. However, after Unbreakable and Signs, his fan-base went on a decline. His stories had more plot holes; his scripts contained dialogue that felt forced and unnatural and they did not have the creative flare that his first three films had. After films such as The Happening and The Last Airbender, moviegoers had mostly lost their faith in Shyamalan.
So when his name came up in bold, red letters during the trailer for The Visit, the grand majority of moviegoers, including myself, rolled their eyes and sighed in disappointment. But what if we all got sucked in to yet another great, big plot twist? Has Shyamalan finally gotten back to his roots? Or is this just another one of his disasters?
The Visit stars Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie and Kathryn Hahn and is about two siblings who are invited to travel down into rural Pennsylvania for a week to visit their estranged grandparents. We are told this story through the two cameras of Becca, an aspiring documentarian, and her brother, Tyler, an aspiring rapper, and through their cameras they see that not everything is exactly “okay” with their Nana and PopPop. They have these strange rules; freaky noises occur in the middle of the night; and Becca feels obligated to get it all on tape.
One of the more noticeable things in the movie, for me, was the use of the “found footage” technique. After Paranormal Activity, of course, that whole style of filmmaking quickly became overused and clichéd, but in this it seemed like Shyamalan knew that and embraced it. It was like he knew that the audience would be a little tired of the genre and he used that to his advantage. This really caught my attention when the sound effects, or the ones that were supposed to be there, were all kept in-camera. There weren’t any strings or little scary instruments playing during the jump-scares or any of the other scares. Everything happened that needed to happen and that actually made the film more impactful for me as a viewer.
The characters were strong in their presence and the actors definitely helped make that happen. The grandparents were very creepy and bone-chillingly portrayed by Dunagan and McRobbie. Even the kids, played by DeJonge and Oxenbould, were convincing.
The script was a bit shaky in the beginning, but got better. Some of the dialogue was a bit awkward, but got more focused quite quickly and there were even some scenes that pulled on the heart-strings, which were well-executed.
I’m very happy that I get to say “Shyamalan did a great job directing” again. The way the cameras were held and placed was very effective; the pacing was fairly even and at just the right speed for this kind of a film; and, the way the movie looked all meshed together in a very fitting way.
After seeing this film, the film enthusiast in me wanted to know a little more on what happened to Shyamalan during its production. What changed? Why was this film so different? Sure enough, he seemed to have gone back to his roots. He started small, got a producer, got a crew, got a cast, and made the film. He made it just for the sake of filmmaking, and that’s the best thing you can do in this field.
by Graham Hartlaub