Movie Review: ‘The Visit’


Being an M. Night Shyamalan supporter is a lot like cheering for a professional Vancouver hockey team. A very long time ago we were on top of the world but, a few close attempts later, all that remains are the distant memories and the frustrating present. Like the Vancouver Millionaires’ Stanley Cup win in 1915, Shyamalan’s masterful The Sixth Sense amazed the world when he was only 29-years-old. Although there were close attempts to recreate that magic in Unbreakable, Signs and The Village, the filmmaker never received the same acclaim or box-office success. Recent years have been tough. Ticket sales are down. Support has been dwindling. The lowest point was when Columbia Pictures didn’t even advertise the director’s name on any of the promotional material for After Earth. Imagine watching a sports team too embarrassed to wear their own jerseys. He was at that point.

I mention Shyamalan’s infamous history because I think it’s crucial to understanding not only the charm of The Visit, this small found-footage horror/comedy, but also what makes me enthusiastic about its successes and willing to overlook some of its obvious failures.

This is by far the funniest film he has ever made. It may not be one of his best but it is still a welcomed and delightful return to form from a writer-director whose self-seriousness became self-parody. In his recent travesties, After Earth, The Last Airbender, and The Happening, we laughed at Shyamalan but in The Visit we laugh with him.

Using stock characters and themes from some of his past work, The Visit is about the internal conflict in a family – mainly a mother’s inability to connect with her kids like Mel Gibson’s character in Signs and Will Smith’s role in After Earth (and many, many more of Shyamalan’s films). This is his first movie to examine a generational rift between kids and their grandparents but, unlike the director’s other work, which is mostly concerned with finding the serious drama in these situations, The Visit seems to be parodying that dead-pan seriousness.

The director can often be distinguished by his unawareness to preposterousness. In Signs a girl’s paranoia over drinking water led to a great epiphany about how God has a grand plan for our lives, and in The Village a blind woman sees through her town’s cult mentality by venturing through the scary woods alone to get medicine for her sick lover. This is a filmmaker that once had a character named Cypher Rage utter,“Graviton buildup could be a precursor to mass expansion.” The only mass expansion we could see was Shyamalan’s ego – his inability to reconcile his pretensions with his asinine execution.

Thankfully, whenever The Visit verges on self-importance, it lightens the mood with self-reflexive gags, ridiculous payoffs, and absurd imagery. The characters don’t lend themselves to drama as much as Shyamalan would like but he exploits some of their quirks for humorous situations, one of which is among the most hilarious moments in any film this year.

Rebecca, an aspiring filmmaker that is the director behind this film’s found-footage conceit, and Tyler, a wannabe rapper who uses pop singers’ names as swear words, meet their grandparents for the first time when their divorced mother goes on a vacation with her new boyfriend. Years earlier, the kids’ mother had a fight with her parents; they haven’t spoken in years. The children stay on the farm, spend time with their grandparents, and try to take the first steps in mending their broken family. But soon after their arrival the grandparents act bizarre and violent.

Familial dysfunction has effected Rebecca’s view of her own body-image and Tyler has become a germaphobe. These character attributes are relatively close to the two kids in Signs – Bo’s fear of drinking water is akin to Tyler’s fear of germs, and Rebecca’s psychological struggles are very similar to the conflict Graham faces after the death of his mother. Shyamalan may be reusing archetypes and dealing with similar themes, yet The Visit is far lighter than anything he’s ever made.

Tyler’s germaphobia isn’t a metaphor; it doesn’t lead to any substantial dramatic moment. Rebecca’s self-loathing seems tacked-on and inorganic. The mid-section of this film is devoted to drama and characterization but it drags because we don’t buy either of the protagonists. Dialogue has never been Shyamalan’s strong suit, so Rebecca and Tyler are too much like a middle-aged perception of children rather than realistic, relatable kids. Tyler, an eight-year old, correctly uses the word “mise en scène,” and Rebecca, fifteen, constantly talks about the “cinematic” quality of an image and how she doesn’t want to use a certain composition because it’s “exploitive.” This is annoyingly unnatural.

For The Happening or The Last Airbender this was detrimental but, unlike those two, he is not trying to express social commentary about how we treat the environment. The Visit, in a way, feels like an apology – a lampooning of old ways. Rebecca’s pretentions as a documentarian seem to reflect Shyamalan’s as a filmmaker, and it feels like he is humorously acknowledging this parallel.

Near the beginning, when Rebecca first arrives at her grandparents remote farm, she asks Tyler to stand in front of a slowly swaying swing because it’s a cinematic image that also alludes to her mother’s past – she used to play on it as a kid but now it feels slow, grey and old. Tyler makes fun of her sister and refuses to cooperate in the staging of the scene. Later in the film, as the grandparents get off their rocker and start lashing out violently, Shyamalan uses a similar shot of the swing to set the mood, the way Rebecca wanted. It’s a dark and atmospheric composition that you might have seen in something like The Village. The Visit is Shyamalan’s first film where atmospheric shots of trees, old sheds, and creepy old people (like the crazy elderly women at the end of The Happening) are like punch-lines.

(Note: the next paragraph has a spoiler.)

It’s also the only time in a Shyamalan film where someone has told a serious story about divorce and the payoff was witnessing a character tackle an old person and smash his skull open with a fridge door. And no, this scene is not trying to make a statement about the fragility of the human condition; it’s just stupid, absurd and lighthearted fun.

Despite the emotional immaturity and willingness to redeem Rebecca and Tyler’s mother after already subverting any attempts for a climactic family group hug, The Visit is consistently entertaining even though an uneven middle act drags with weak characterization. But even then, it’s still good enough to make you see dead people – glimpses of a M. Night of old.

Mr. Shyamalan, I’ll put my jersey back on and accept your apology.


Josh is a film critic who probably spends more time watching movies than you spend not watching movies. His tastes are unabashedly snobby and he tries to watch and promote Canadian films (despite the fact that most of them suck). Josh is currently taking a double major in philosophy and film studies. He also likes to point out why your opinions are fallacious by quoting the definition of ad hominem, ad populum, and ad nauseam. Notice how he just used an Oxford comma? He’s kind of pretentious like that.
  • spburke

    I’d be on board with your interpretation if I thought for a second that Shyamalan had the capacity for self-awareness or self-deprecation. Anything funny he’s done has never been on purpose.

    • Facebook User

      I think there is some humor in Signs, but you’re right, recently all the laughs have been unintentional. I’m curious to see how other critics react to the film. Thanks for reading!

    • Facebook User

      I think there is some humor in Signs, but you’re right, recently all the laughs have been unintentional. I’m curious to see how other critics react to the film. Thanks for reading!

    • iswantingcake

      Shyamalan confirmed that this was at least partially a comedy.

  • CS

    Please consider removing the bit about the fridge. It is a major spoiler and if I hadn’t already seen the film, would be extremely disappointed having read it. At least provide a spoiler warning early on.

  • TJ

    remove the fridge spoiler

    • TJ

      It’s unprofessional.

      • Facebook User

        It’s not unprofessional; it’s analytical. I’m backing up my claim that Shyamalan seems to be parodying himself. Earlier in the film, the kid talks about how he thinks his dad left his mom because he didn’t tackle a kid at a football game – it’s serious. In the fridge scene, he tackles someone just like he was supposed to during the football game. A serious moment is given a very sill payoff.

        • Will Zogg

          Hm, yeah, please at least warn of spoilers.

        • CM

          The fact that you have a reason to spoil a crucial moment in the film doesn’t justify doing it? At the very least, announce that a major spoiler is coming.. at the most, take it away and make your point without having to go into specific details, be creative, not lazy and disrespectful. The films not even out yet. Have some professionalism. Does it bother you at all that the biggest response to your review is an annoyance at the spoiler instead of an insightful discussion? Make us laugh with you, not at you.

        • Mr.Sixes

          Change context to be more vauge

        • jstones

          So you decided to add more info to your original spoiler in order to make your point that it wasn’t a spoiler? Professional? Mkay.

  • A

    No professional film critic would include any type of spoiler in their review. I was looking forward to this movie and now I know something major about the end. Please remove that part so you don’t ruin it for anyone else! I will not be reading any more movie reviews that you write as I feel I cannot trust you or your opinion now.

    • Facebook User

      Was Ebert, the biggest influence on modern film criticism, a professional? Look at paragraph six.

      • A

        I think you are underestimating the significance of your spoiler. It doesn’t just reveal a particular event- but suggests pretty clearly the final outcome of the film. In terms of who lives, who dies, and even HOW EXTREME circumstances get. I’m not sure I know the exact paragraph you are pointing towards in Eberts review, but if its the one regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis I’m pretty sure that stuff was in the trailer- and even if it wasn’t, he doesn’t reveal what side of the struggle emerges on top. You clearly do.

    • When I got to the part where the writer wrote “(Note: the next paragraph has a spoiler.)”, I skipped said paragraph and continued reading. Nothing has been spoiled.

      I agree, someone who calls themselves a movie critic/reviewer should not need to include any type of spoiler, but they did mention it, so technically it is your fault for continuing after being told the next paragraph contained a spoiler.

  • BonBon

    Didn’t know the spoiler was THAT big of a spoiler! Eek. Wish I didn’t read that part!

    • Facebook User

      Believe me, it’s not as big of a spoiler as some people are making it out to be.

  • So it’s funny…but is it scary???

    • Facebook User

      I don’t think it’s trying to be “scary,” so the simple answer is no.

      • Then this movie will flop. It’s being heavily advertised as a scary movie

        • Facebook User

          The marketing is all wrong. Even the trailer looks like it’s been color corrected to look darker than the actual film.

  • Adam Gilson

    It’s pretty ridiculous seeing some of the comments on here deriding the author for being unprofessional for including a spoiler that was preceeded with a “spoiler alert.”

    Guess what? I read that, decided to skip the spoiler, and am feeling pretty good. Who knew life could be so easy?

    • Kenny

      He didn’t have the spoiler alert warning on there until people complained after reading it.

  • me

    Without giving away any plot spoilers, can you tell me the extent of the nudity?

    • Facebook User

      There are a couple humorous shots involving the grandma’s butt. I know, it sounds juvenile, but it works decently well in context.

      • me

        Okay, thank you very much. Do you remember if that’s all it showed?

        • Facebook User

          Yes, that’s it, and there are only two instances.

          • me

            Great! Thanks so much for the info, and the review, looking forward to seeing it. So glad you told us it’s a comedy, I was really looking forward to scary. I think it would’ve been a let down, had I not known.

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  • Jeremy Alexander

    This is a comedy? And it gets high praise followed by a 6.5 score out of 10? I’m confused. And am I to understand that you have been reviewing movies for 19 years, or that you are 19 years old? There is a difference since nobody with any common sense would take any manner of advice from a 19 year old. Sorry, as they say, you will understand when you are older.

    • Allyson Johnson

      Maybe you shouldn’t on a website called TheYoungFolks then? Just a thought.

    • Facebook User

      Yes, the film is a comedy, and I did not give it high praise. What does my age have to do with any of the analysis in my review? If you want credentials, I’m a member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle and the Vancouver International Film Festival hired me to help select Canadian short films for the festival. They listen to my opinion because it has nothing to do with my age but the actual content of what I’m saying. Sorry, maybe you will understand when you actually READ and UNDERSTAND the review.

  • Christy Neill

    I stopped reading after you placed 6th Sense above his masterwork Unbreakable. However it seems obvious you mean well. After his first 2 films, i thought we might have another Jonathan Glazer on our hands happily but everything fell away. I will simply b thrilled if he has even somewhat gotten back to creepy. Speaking of Glazer i recall a fellow genius, whose work his reminds me of…, who was dogged by continual claims that he couldn’t write characters, was too self important and was the actor’s worst enemy. but Stanley ended up doing pretty well i think.

    • Facebook User

      Personally, I prefer Unbreakable but in that section I was outlining the general reaction to his work. Thanks for reading and commenting respectfully!

      • Christy Neill

        Absolutely. I appreciate the effort :)