Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Visit

The wonderfully spooky return of M. Night Shyamalan.


The Visit

It's been a long time since word of a new M. Night Shyamalan movie stirred much more than a shrug. Only dimly remembered by now are the Oscar-nominated splash he made with The Sixth Sense in 1999 and the worthiness of its successors, the eventual cult item Unbreakable and the box-office hit Signs. Shyamalan began bombing with preposterous films like Lady in the Water and The Happening. These were followed by attempted blockbusters like the bloated The Last Airbender and the dire After Earth, which bombed even bigger. Seldom has what at first looked like a major career taken such a baffling nosedive.

Now Shyamalan is back again, but this time the news is heartening. His eleventh picture, The Visit, is a nifty, screw-tightening horror movie, creepy and fleet (90 minutes) and filled with crisply delivered shocks. It's a clever refurbishing of the played-out "found footage" genre, and also a pocket guide to horror-flick history, reaching back to the Brothers Grimm and moving up through Halloween and The Blair Witch Project (and of course the Paranormal Activity films). As is not always the case with modern scare-fests, there's nothing dank or slash-y about this one. It's a lot of fun.

The director has always had a special rapport with child actors, and he draws precocious performances from the two featured here: Olivia DeJonge, playing 15-year-old Becca, and fellow Australian Ed Oxenbould, playing her younger brother, Tyler. When their single mom (lovably scattered Kathryn Hahn) decides to go on a week-long cruise with her current boyfriend, she ships the kids off for a first-time visit to her parents, who live in a big creaky house on a remote farm in rural Pennsylvania (Shyamalan's home turf and customary setting of choice). These grandparents—Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie)—are sweet and welcoming at first. But things get weird pretty quickly.        

Fortunately, Becca is prepared for all the crazy that follows. An aspiring filmmaker, she has come equipped with a video camera, and has given her brother one, too. Shyamalan is especially skillful in handling this found-footage cliché: we never question how this or that shot could have been made because the director always makes it clear. And while there's some requisite shaky-cam stylization, it's also clear that a real cinematographer (Maryse Alberti, who filmed The Wrestler and West of Memphis) was in charge.

Only a churl would give away the good stuff in this movie. Let's just say there's an ominous shed out back, a classically dark basement ("I'm gonna go down there"), and a disturbing encounter under a porch. There's also a gross-out scene that sets a new standard for PG-13 ick. And of course, this being a Shyamalan movie, there's a sudden plot twist, too—and a pretty good one.

Shyamalan's last two films each cost way north of $100-million, and they were worthless. This one is said to have cost $5-million, and it's a real jewel. The man's still got it. And for the first time in years, we want to see more of it.

NEXT: How Petty Traffic Fines Ruin Lives in Milwaukee (and Everywhere in America)

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  1. I know a lot of people absolutely hated The Village but I thought it was brilliant.

    Sometimes, in the light of history, an artists works that are least appreciated in his own time become the most appreciated long after he is gone. For example, in his own time, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, was the least appreciated of his books. In fact, it bombed, it bombed badly.

    1. Dammit, why won’t it allow edit! Please mentally insert an apostrophe in the word “artists” between the t and the s. Thank you.

      1. You’re first post was a lie!

        1. This.

          And Star Wars will be better than all these shits

    2. Herman Melville’s Toad was way better….

    3. I’m heartened to see more people come to the defense of The Village. I think it’s Shyamalan’s best movie.

      1. Thank you! Shyamalan will be vindicated in the course of time.

      2. That is the most intelligent thing you’ve ever said.

      3. I really hate to agree with you, but, yes, The Village is my favorite as well, followed closely by Unbreakable.

      4. You are out of your mind. Lady In the Water is his masterpiece. That’s where we really get to see inside his soul.

      5. My favorite’s “Unbreakable,” but I think “The Village” is his 2nd best film, and both should be undisputed classics of American cinema. “The 6th Sense” was hugely enjoyable, but I don’t think it quite rises to the level of those two, in terms of its overall artistic merit. Its a very good film, but those other two are simply great.

    4. The Village would have been brilliant if not for that stupid awful world-ruining POS ‘twist’ near the end.

      1. You must hate the Twilight Zone too, don’t you?

      2. it wan’t really a twist. It was a fundamental feature of the whole milieu throughout; he just didn’t get explicit to the point that a brainless retard who wasn’t paying attention to nothing and expected everything to be spoonfed to him couldn’t miss it anymore. And it’s the point about which the whole fucking story was built. Without it, the rest of the story could not stand.

  2. I really liked The Village, too. Bryce Dallas Howard would be my girlfriend in a different world.

  3. i liked the village and unbreakable. there were even (a few) good parts in signs.

    1. What did you NOT like about Signs? He did, what I think makes for a truly suspenseful film, he had most of the action off stage. Like Shakespeare did. When most of the action is off stage the viewer’s mind fills in the gaps and it makes for a powerful production.

      1. I have a ton of minor nitpicks with Signs, but what I really hated was his signature “twist” at the very end. It was a deity sized deus ex machina. You might as well have a giant finger descend from the sky and smoosh the alien villian, because it was just as blatant.

        What I hated about the Village was his “twist” again. But the problem this time was that the twist was obvious and telegraphed way in advance.

        Shamalyan really needs to take a closer look at his signature. The reason the Sixth Sense worked is because the movie wasn’t about the twist at the end, that was just the coda. Ditto for Unbreakable. After that it seemed he was just coming up with the twists first and then trying to find movies to wrap around them.

        1. “The reason the Sixth Sense worked is because the movie wasn’t about the twist at the end, that was just the coda.”

          And neither was Signs. Whether you want to see the twist as “deity-sized” depends upon your own religious persuasion. Frankly, that might be what annoys some people about it. But if you are at least able to tolerate faith in others, even if you yourself are irreligious, you can recognize it as a brilliant film.

          1. There is nothing brilliant about DEATH BY WATER and baseball bat ‘signs’. Again: terrible.

            1. Death by water? Did you see the classic War of the Worlds? I did not get the impression that it was H2O qua H2O. After all, these aliens appeared to be composed of water just as much as we are. I got the impression it was microbes in the water – in other words – an homage to War of the Worlds.

      2. Are kidding me? Signs was terrible. Bizarre performances, nonsensical character decisions, and DEATH BY WATER. Terrible.

        1. I don’t know what movie you saw, but it obviously wasn’t Shyamalan’s Signs.

          1. No, it was that one.

            Whatever his apparently mediocre talents as a director may be, the man is a juvenile writer who’s unaware of his own limitations, which is why he apparently feels no shame in serving up preposterous, heavy-handed garbage that would shame anyone with the least bit of subtlety or grace.

  4. Sorry, not gonna give him any more money after he utterly ruined The Last Airbender. That tv series was brilliant and offered enough material and backdrop for even Michael Bay to produce a decent movie out of it (Sure, Bay would have cut the emotional heart out of the thing but it would have been watchable) and it takes a real hack to screw up every single solitary thing from the casting to the special effects to the alterations to the original story to the dialog to the costumes…{and on and on and on} the way Shamalamadingdong did with Last Airbender

    1. Ok, while I disagree (I liked TLA, but I never watched the show, so what do I know), “Shamalamadingdong” is quite funny.

  5. Nope. Found footage OR Shamalyan DQ from me seeing it in theatres or likely ever. 6th Sense and Unbreakable are his only good movies.

  6. I didn’t like Village, but the movie about the people in the elevator (Devil?) was good.

    I just saw The Visit. I liked it a little and would recommend it. Could’ve been better if he stuck to the horror stuff only, but there’s other stuff in it that just drags it down. Still worth seeing.

  7. When I first saw “Lady in the Water,” I thought it was an amazing film…but its one of those films that doesn’t bear much in the way of subsequent viewings (whereas I never tire of seeing his first four films, and I would be embarrassed to even speculate as to how many times I’ve chosen to watch “Unbreakable”). “The Happening” was not a particularly good film, but was a rather solid “B” movie; I don’t understand the hostility towards it. “Devil” was likewise not a bad movie, but certainly not all that good, either. “The Last Airbender” was arguably a bad movie, but not a horrendous one. I never saw “After Earth,” so I won’t defend that one, but I really do think that “The Happening” in particular, is derided more because people love to say they dislike Shyamalan’s films, rather than because its actually bad. I mean, really, what’s supposed to be wrong with it? Other than that its not as good as his earlier films, of course.

  8. Wow, I suppose I should actually watch The Village and give it a fair chance. I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and I really liked Signs despite its flaws, but I never watched The Village after guessing the “twist” from the trailer and hearing it was terrible. (Though I guessed The Sixth Sense’s twist after hearing it had one, and I loved that anyway…)

    Shyamalan is a gifted director, despite his script problems. He’s been the knee-jerk butt of a joke for too long. I’m happy to hear he has another good film in him.

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