Have you ever had a really good day only to have it suddenly ruined by finding out that M. Night Shyamalan has made another movie? Yeah, me neither, ‘cuz that would be a hyper-childish overreaction. I did, however, enter a state of rolling my eyes while muttering “here we go again” when I learned of Shyamalan’s latest horror film known simply as The Visit. It was after I saw it that my attitude towards all things beautiful in life itself got ruined.
This movie is marketed as a “horror comedy”, so you must be wondering: what happens when a director like Shyamalan, who usually makes serious movies that are unintentionally hilarious such as After Earth and The Happening, tries to make a movie we’re actually supposed to laugh at? The answer is simple: he messes up even harder and the final product is even less charming. When Shyamalan tries to be serious, the charm in his films is how they fail. When he fails to be funny, however, it just becomes outright cringe-inducing, and the few genuinely funny moments in the film are – you guessed it – the ones that are intended to be creepy. Of course.
The Visit is a zombie movie, at least in the sense that it takes the ever so notorious found-footage gimmick and runs with it as if that idea hasn’t been stone dead for a decent amount of years. All jokes aside, though, the actual plot is even more of a joke than that. The basic premise is essentially a “mockumentary version” of Hansel & Gretel, where two kids go to the home of their shady and psychotic grandmother, their most unrealistically high-tech home video cameras in hand, only for a bunch of creepy stuff to start happening around the house. And jump scares of course. Because apparently people are still dumb enough to eat that up, especially in found-footage movies. They’ll be pleased to learn that Paranormal Activity 5 is slated for release this October.
Here’s a quick summary of what’s supposed to be funny/scary in this movie: a tiny white boy that engages in shoddy rap numbers and uses the names of female singers when cursing is “funny”, but a scene where his sister, like the idiot of the year that she is, falls for the grandmother’s “crawl into my oven for a bit” routine lifted straight from Hansel & Gretel and doesn’t even attempt to fight back or get out is supposed to be “scary”. It’s a fascinating little world he lives in, that Shyamalan.
I don’t know how rich these kids’ parents are but I must say, they’re permitted to carry some pretty amazing camera equipment when shooting this documentary about their visit at grandma’s. The image is crystal clear and they manage to pick up audio from pretty great distances. They also manage to smash open a door with the camera at one point so it must be made from some strong stuff. The handycam in Cloverfield can it eats heart out.
The Visit is an alleged horror comedy that’s neither scary or funny, at least not when it tries to be, but whether or not it was truly meant to be a comedy could turn into a fascinating debate. According to some behind-the-scenes factoids, Shyamalan re-cut the film multiple times and originally wanted a horror movie, only for his first cut to look more like an art film. After he edited it a second time, it somehow “accidentally” became a comedy. So, just to clarify what apparently happened: when Shyamalan makes movies, it only takes a few edits in originally serious material for it to instantly transform into a comedy.
Or at least that’s one interpretation. The other is that he realized that his film wasn’t gonna be taken seriously by anyone and so he decided to do what Tommy Wiseau did with The Room and act as though it was meant to be a black comedy all along, although if that’s the case, why would he publicly admit that he only chose to do a comedy after one cut of his film proved too impossible to take seriously even for the guy who made The Last Airbender? Why not act like it was always meant to be funny? And furthermore, if either of those interpretations are true, why then does the final product feel like a pathetically botched attempt at genuine humour? As I said, this might turn into a great debate amongst many a cinephile.
I suppose it doesn’t matter since, at the end of the day, it is a lot more fun to laugh at the dialogue in The Village, gloriously bad acting of The Happening and the attempts at drama in After Earth than it is to try and stomach the (supposedly) intentional comedy of The Visit. I would say that it is a saving grace that the child actors in the film are nothing too shabby, but they’re not good enough to be all that. Come to think of it, neither are the adult actors. Who directed this? M. Night Shyamal… oh.