M. Night Shyamalan has not had a true hit since “The Sixth Sense.” Yes, arguments can be made for “Unbreakable” and “Signs”, but nothing has quite hit the high points of his first film. He’s dabbled into high fantasy with an adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (the less said about the better). He’s forayed into sci-fi with “After Earth”, another train wreck. And he’s gone for the pure horror with “The Happening” which was just awful. Now, Shyamalan has entered the horror/comedy genre with “The Visit”, a found-footage film about two kids who spend a week with their mother’s estranged parents. They are told explicitly to not leave their room after 9:30pm, but when things begin to go bump in the night, they investigate. Bad things happen from here.
As a horror film, “The Visit” is a complete travesty of film. Although genuinely unsettling and creepy at times, it relies far too heavily on classic “horror movie logic” to progress anything forward. Grandma’s acting a little insane? Better press her with questions about the past and crawl into the oven when she asks. Grandpa attacks some random guy on the street? He’s just old. Naked Grandma (this happens multiple times) scratching at the walls? Close the door and go back to bed. The two kids are paragons of the horror movie protagonists, struck with too much curiosity and not enough intelligence all at the same time. With this in mind, the atmosphere and general aesthetic does create genuine tension for about half the movie, before things go really M. Night Shyamalan and squander all of it with hammy acting. The film is great when it’s playing with the concept of “Are these grandparents just really weird old people or something worse” and grounding it down. Once discussion shifts to specters and aliens, it all goes wrong.
Now, it is worth noting that none of the press material I saw pushed “The Visit” as a horror comedy. To the best of my understanding, it was a straight horror thriller. It was only after I had seen it and tried to understand how the hell someone said this movie could happen did I find out it was, in fact, supposed to be funny. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t laugh at parts. But I am unsure if the movie was genuinely funny or so very terrible that it became hilarious. The young boy talks like he was raised by Reddit and Youtube, believing himself to be the next Tyler the Creator by ending all of his raps with “Hoe.” Side characters will notice the kids filming for the documentary, proclaim “I used to be an actor!” and spin off into a Shakespearian monologue. These moments, and a few others, did get a good laugh. But it’s pedantic and stupid humor, gross-out gags and eye-rollers, rather than a “Cabin In The Woods”-esque commentary comedy. And the writing is just terrible. So terrible you can laugh at it, yes, but chiefly just terrible.
“The Visit” is not a good movie. The acting is awful, the dialogue campy as hell. The found footage, already an over-used commodity, is crappy. Yes, there are moments of unease and, yes, there are moments of comedy. But the package it is all presented in is so poor I cannot recommend it for anything more than Halloween binge watch. What may be worse is that for about three-fourths of the film, it definitely could be much worse. But there comes a dive so deep that no amount of humor could pull it out. It has one of the worse third acts in a film I have seen in ages. Now, it is by no means the worst film Shyamalan has done, and in all honesty is probably his best since “Signs.” But that isn’t saying much. Wait for Netflix.