M. Night Shyamalan just made a movie that doesn’t look like it outright sucks! I gots to see this!
He sat in the theater seat, popcorn and icee in hand— a total violation of his diet—waiting to see if the rumors are true. “Could it be?” our movie going hero thought. “Could this movie not be a total crapfest?!” The lights of the theater dimmed, he readied himself… but first twenty minutes of trailers and commercials!
….The movie credits rolled, the lights came up.
“Mother of God” he said “Why did I wear my sunglasses the whole time?!”
For me, M. Night Shyamalan is a bit of an enigma. I can remember seeing his breakout hit The Sixth Sense twice in theaters when it came out. He was lauded as the “new master of suspense,” the “twist ending king,” and other such undeserved platitudes. However, in the sixteen years that have followed, I think it is fair to argue that he has produced mostly, well, to put it kindly, in a manner of speaking, to be fair, when all things are considered, steaming plies of dung. Yet he still is making movies.
He really hasn’t been heading in the right direction at all. Unbreakable seemed to split audiences, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, and The Happening ranged from head scratchers to just laughable. Then came the disasters of The Last Airbender and After Earth ,which were good only for inducing gagging responses to anyone who saw them. I think I could be forgiven for thinking the same about The Visit prior to actually watching it.
The trailer gave me hope that Shamalan was going back to traditional horror instead of a ridiculous antagonist, such as killer plants. However, I wasn’t quiet sold on the scary old people gimmick he was trying to sell. We all had to suffer through nearly a decade plus of supernatural scary kids that really were not that scary. Are we now going to have to suffer through scary old people? I also could not help but think this was just an expansion of an odd scare gag Shyamalan used near the end of The Happening that he thought would make for a good movie.
The basic plot can easily be picked up from the trailer. Young teenage brother and sister, Tyler and Becca (Ed Oxenbould & Olivia DeJonge) go to see their grandparents (Deanna Dunagan & Peter McRobbie), for the first time—instantly calling them Nana and Pop Pop. The grandparents have been estranged from their runaway daughter, the mother of the two teenagers, for about fifteen years. The kids have never seen their grandparents—not even a picture, apparently—so the grandparents see this as a chance to start to mend the family ties.
With each passing day and in particular each passing night, the behavior of the grandparents becomes more and more unpredictable. By the end of the film, all hell breaks loose.
The departure for Shyamalan here is that he makes use of the “found footage” style, something he hasn’t done before. Supposedly, the older sister is going to document their trip in hopes that this will help bring peace between her mother and grandparents.
I’m a fan of the faux documentary or found footage style. However, as has often been pointed out, at times in this style of movie there are shots or edits that don’t really feel possible. If this was in fact, either raw footage found in a camera or edited together by a teenage girl it should feel like it. No surprise, this was a main weakness of this film as well. To any acute audience member it was pretty clear that the footage was being edited for theatrical effect and that the creator wasn’t making documentary but a movie.
There are shots and edits here that just makes you lose the realistic feel that I think most audiences should have when watching a movie in this style. Thinking back on it, I’m not really sure why Shyamalan elected to go with this way since it didn’t enhance anything, and he could have gotten the same effect with his standard style.
I did however, appreciate the touch of humor the movie had. I think it was something that was really necessary since old people aren’t scary and when they act scary they are just funny. Sure enough, there were some odd funny moments that Shyamalan goes all in on for the laugh. This was smart, since I could easily see audiences laughing at the movie rather that with it, if it were too serious. Yes, there are legitimate moments of suspense, but no real scares.
I think it is fair to say this movie didn’t totally suck the way other M. Night films have. It is nowhere near as good as The Sixth Sense and with every movie he puts out I am more and more convinced that his 1999 film was an aberration. I don’t think he is a good director or a good story teller, and the fact that this mediocre film is getting attention because it isn’t as bad as people have come to expect doesn’t really say much for the film or the film maker.
The twist here was, at first, refreshingly surprising—at least for Shyamalan. It wasn’t anything remotely supernatural at all. The grandparents weren’t aliens, dead people, or whatever, nor were the kids interdimensional beings sent to document humans. As it turned out, this old couple are not the teen’s grandparents at all. The real grandparents volunteered at some hospital, and this couple (presumably from the hospital) learned about the visit, killed them, and took their place so that they could have a week of having grandkids, and then kill them too…..
Ok, so I didn’t realize how dumb that was until I wrote it out. While watching the movie it kind of works. The big problem is what I’ve been saying all along: old people aren’t scary, and absent any super natural powers they are pretty easy for even a teenager to deal with if they get out of hand. Just punch them, they’ll fall down and break sixteen different bones. Done! Solved! And that’s pretty much what happens. Once the confrontation got physical it was pretty one sided.
In another ridiculous twist, the “bad guys” are clearly mentally handicapped old people and the teens appear to kill both of them! When their dad left the family for a barista it turned the boy in to a germ-a-phobic and makes the girl afraid of her own reflection, literally. Then at the very end, after killing two people, they are seen acting well-adjusted. Really!?
Ultimately, this movie is not as bad as most M. Night Shyamalan movies, but that doesn’t mean you should waste your time watching it.
2.5 Death Stars
– by Joseph De Paul