Some people, naming no names, are more comfortable going to watch Fifty Shades of Grey on their own in public than would be happy being seen lurking within spitting distance of a theatre showing an M. Knight Shyamalan flick these days. If you’ve got a relatively decent memory and a liking for movies with something a little different, you’ve no doubt experienced both the very best and worst of him. You’ve probably marveled at the likes of The Sixth Sense, Signs and even The Village (to a degree). Lest we forget, he has also offered us The Last Airbender, After Earth and Lady In The Water, all well-renowned stinkers (I quite enjoyed the last one, but hey-ho).
So, given the historical mixed bag that is Shyamalan’s cinematic CV, you could be forgiven for giving this a wider than average berth. Well, you really shouldn’t, as whilst this isn’t exactly ‘I see dead people’ territory, it is a marked improvement on Shymalan’s more recent output. Known for his now notorious twists, he continues the trend here, with something you will only miss a mile off, admittedly, if you’re not really paying attention. Don’t laugh, you might not be.
The reason being, it is quite easy to switch off early on. Dependent, it seems, on who you are, you might find the stars of this tale, the visiting children, utterly repellent. I found myself thinking almost immediately; ‘Kathryn Hahn would never spawn, mould and somehow raise these pretentious, grasping little life-stealers.’ Harsh, but nonetheless fair, I feel. One of them, a pretty young thing that my eldest son took rather too much of an interest in to be healthy if I’m honest, is a budding film-maker. Now that was handy, given that a good portion of the film is based around what the children capture on the cameras whilst on their trip to meet their grandparents for the very first time. For a week. On their own. Visiting a couple of old crusties that even their own mother wouldn’t so much as pick up the phone to at Christmas.
I’m not sure Parenting 101 was high on her reading list. Given their amazing ability to annoy, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. I couldn’t decide whether Shyamalan was truly as out of touch with reality as these characters were obnoxious, or whether he genuinely thought budding young creative types have to be somehow socially shunned for the amount of misguided exuberance they exhibit. If this is what he was like as a child, well, it’s no great wonder he ended up writing stories, on his own. Still, he had the last laugh. Better to have been loved and lost, after all, than never to have been loved at all. The talent that burns twice as bright only lasts half as long, they say. And for a while, he did shine so very, very brightly.
There is something to be said, however, for the performances. These are by turns both teeth-grindingly annoying (which in itself is still a feat of acting prowess) and at other times, very compelling. Morbidly so at times. Never, for example, has a game of Hide & Seek wrought the same kind of silent and uncomfortable contemplation as here, with the Grandmother joining in without being invited. For a woman of her age, she repeatedly displays the physical abilities of a much younger model.
Regardless, there is fun to be had here for an audience that likes to be intrigued. At least as much as there is opportunity to pour scorn, the kind of which has been so easy to do with Shyamalan’s more recent output. Every movie he releases ends up with me suggesting that he should give up and start writing Twilight Zone episodes, and really this is no different. I don’t personally enjoy bashing the poor chap, but he does kind of set himself up for it all too often. The Visit is something of a return to form for him, insomuch as that it doesn’t actually make you angry that it exists. It may be some time, however, before he enjoys the adulation that his earlier work had received. We can only hope that he improves now, as quickly as he descended into mediocrity.