M. Night Shyamalan's “The Visit” might be worth a visit for horror fans
I was never blessed with grandparents. I have vague memories of my grandfather on my father’s side, but I was very young when he passed. I did not get a chance to meet my mother’s parents. Still, I spent an enormous amount of time a Baptist church while I was growing up, where the elderly were found in nearly every corner.
It seems like older people tend to congregate in houses of worship, likely trying to buddy up to their creator before shuffling off this mortal coil. So I can say with some certainty that retirees can be creepy to young people.
Even those with grandparents, who probably ease this generational fear somewhat, may eventually be forced to deal with shuffling feet, awkward smells and the slow, creeping, end of life behaviors that occupy the halls of nursing homes and hospitals.
Maybe it’s just a natural understanding of mortality and the path everyone takes that causes the hair on the back of our necks to stand up. Maybe it’s just the distance between generations that makes them appear so foreign. But almost everyone has at some point experienced a moderate fear of the elderly.
M. Night Shyamalan, for the first time in a decade or so, has tapped into this universal menace and created a film around it. “The Visit” is by no means a great movie—some critics have described it as mostly unremarkable.
And while it plays to some very tired themes and uses some very tired devices, Shyamalan is still a competent director and is capable of delivering an entertaining film experience.
As with all Shyamalan movies, “The Visit” hinges on a twist that is telegraphed for miles, and because of that, spoilers may lurk elsewhere in this review. If you are dead set on not having a mediocre horror film ruined for you, it’s best to stop reading now.
One of the tired devices Shymalan uses to tell his story is the found-footage technique. This style of filmmaking got its start with “The Blair Witch Project” and has been used almost exclusively in horror films like “Paranormal Activity” and “V/H/S,” with the supposed intention of adding a layer of reality to the supernatural events taking place.
It works to a modest degree, although most of us will agree that at a certain point everyone would drop the camera and run, and rarely do we narrate our thoughts in such a plot-enhancing manner.
However, all films require us to suspend our disbelief, and Shymalan uses the found-footage trope well enough that the audience may forget that it’s clichéd. The story follows a pair of siblings who are shipped off to spend a week with grandparents they have never met due to their mother having an intense falling out with them sometime before the kids were born.
We are also to believe that they are never shown pictures or home movies and very literally know nothing about their mother’s family at all.
There is a lot to be taken on faith in “The Visit,” but if the audience is willing to relax their inquisitive minds for an hour or so, the film is mostly enjoyable and very often hysterical.
The other tired device is one that can be found across the horror genre. It’s worth discussing, even though the twist of the film hinges on its revelation. The escaped mental patient is one common horror element that will likely never go away. No matter how much awareness is raised, no matter how many times people are told that those who suffer from mental illness are more likely be victims of violence than the perpetrators, the mentally ill will always be fodder for scary stories.
As much as we may be afraid of dying, worse still is losing control of our minds. Humans are unpredictable enough without adding a hereditary mental disease that causes irrational, psychotic behavior. And thus, mental illness works well as a plot device for horror films.
In this regard, however, “The Visit” is surprisingly tame. I worked in mental health for a time and I can say without exaggeration that I experienced far stranger things working in a psychosocial rehabilitation center than anything found in this film.
At no time was it threatening, as it is in the film, but mental health is a challenging and difficult field, one that makes films like “The Visit” seem somewhat exploitative. For this reason, it failed to elicit its intended reaction in me.
However, “The Visit” is for the most part a simplistic and tame horror film, one that many audiences will enjoy. It might not be worth a trip to the theater, but it wouldn’t make for a bad Netflix Friday night.