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The Visit Review - STOP THE PRESSES: M. Night Shyamalan Has Made A Film That Doesn't Suck

The losing streak is over (sort of).

Rating: ˜…˜…˜… "No man can hold me down," blares out the song over the end credits of The Visit. The message is clear - M. Night Shyamalan, the man who was proclaimed the next Spielberg (boy, I hope somebody got fired for that blunder) before going into the most public creative breakdown ever, thinks he's back on form. Is he really? Well kinda, yeah. Following film after film of drastically increasing diminishing returns, M. Night seems to have finally got the message and has dialled it back massively. With The Visit the budget is a fraction of his dull Will/Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth, the scale minuscule compared to the over-the-top The Last Airbender and we've got a cast of unknowns instead of Hollywood's best and brightest slumming it woodenly for a paycheck. It's the sort of restrained, back-to-basic filmmaking you wish more big budget directors typically surrounded by nodding money men should engage it (here's looking at you, Cameron). And yet, despite all those adjustments, for the opening half-hour Shyamalan doesn't seem to have learnt a thing. The acting is flat, the dialogue alternatively obvious and obnoxiously out of touch, the thematic through-line heavy handed and any moments of horror come so out of nowhere that this feels like a Scary Movie-esque parody. The film may have the unique selling point of being a found footage movie (yay?), but this feels vintage Sh*tamalan.
Heck, he can't even commit to that key gimmick. The frame is so still that it's clear the actors are just waving their hands in front of industry standard cameras, there's copious shots from angles where there's clearly no camcorder and the editing is way too polished. Worse of all, he uses fades. He uses fades in a f*cking found footage movie... I just can't... Obviously I was laughing along with glee. There's a competence to the structure of all this and a clear sense of purpose, which makes the fact it doesn't work all the more compelling. And then the horror hits. The set up is simple - two young teenagers are visiting their estranged grandparents for the week, and invariably increasingly weird and scary things start to happen. As the elder sister is a wannabe filmmaker (which leads to lots of throwing out of film school buzzwords, reminding you that Shyamalan is someone who does actually have a solid grasp of cinema theory), they record all of this as part of a family documentary, the most cack Things ramp up pretty sillily, befitting of the earlier issues, but around the midpoint there's a sequence that, despite feeling at first like a direct lift from Paranormal Activity, changes everything. The audience stops laughing. Jump scares hit and genuinely fill you with terror. Dread infects every scene. Shyamalan even starts using the genre's restrictive camera angles properly to build up tension. It's brash horror, with a desire to unnerve and amuse, but it works - the overall effect is so frightening that the slip ups in the first half hour are totally excusable.
As things really ramped up, I almost convinced myself that the sloppy opening was all part of Shyamalan's greatest twist - he was playing with us, making us think he'd made another tat film before pulling the rug and revealing he was finally in on the joke. Sadly, a corny coda suggests otherwise, but that can't take away from the chills themselves, nor the sheer confidence in the second half that clearly seems born out of a desire to prove us all wrong. Oh, there is a twist in the film though, and I guessed it (I kid you not) fifteen minutes in - the film is that predictable. But it doesn't really matter. Like The Conjuring before it, this is a movie that exists happily executing pre-existing concepts and tropes. It's more about the how than the what or why, which for the usually needlessly high-concept M. is a blessed relief. In the annals of modern horror this is mid-range, on a par with stuff like The Conjuring. However, The Visit isn't just a simple horror film. It is M. Night Shyamalan's best film since Signs, which isn't saying as much as the thirteen year gap would suggest, but is still commendable given how past hope he so long seemed to be. Shyamassance? Why not.
The Visit is in UK cinemas now and on 11th September in the US.
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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.