M. Night Shyamalan’s new film The Visit is a trip!
It is a bumpy and scary roller coaster ride into the bright psychological darkness of buried emotions and loss, something I would put into the category of “daytime noir.” It is a sibling romp through a complex childhood bracketed by their now single mother’s regrets and a missing father, nestled uncomfortably in their serene and shadowy ancestral home.
Shyamalan’s hand is firm in delivering this most unusual suspenseful mock-documentary horror film punctuated with comic relief. With his well-developed auteur skills as a writer, producer and director, we have to look in every corner for the deeper stories embedded in this bare bones thriller.
There is a challenge set down for all filmmakers in Sergei Eisenstein’s Film Form. While the context of this passage is Soviet filmmaking the point is universal and timeless:
“Along this path are still many difficulties, many risks of falsely understanding the principles of story-telling. Of course the most terrible is the neglect of the possibilities given us now and again to liberate from the old traditions of the story: the possibility of principally and newly re-examining the foundations and problems of the film-story.”
I can confirm for you that M. Night Shyamalan has Eisenstein’s thoughtfulness and curiosity, combined with something like Alfred Hitchcock’s sense of dread and his own distinct storytelling style and aesthetic nature. All this combined makes for nothing less than a gripping cinematic experience. It is a most unique journey to follow the way Shyamalan “newly re-examines the foundations and problems of the film-story.”
The Visit is being compared to past works like The Sixth Sense, Signs & Unbreakable –because it once again constructs characters engaged in very deep relationship issues and family dynamics with frightening accuracy. It also brings back the narrative use of a character’s “flaw” where one person in the story has a “gift” or “problem” or both.
We also have the refrain of children who play centerpiece roles in this latest film. They are in fact, in full control of this story – literally and figuratively. Both Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) give stunning performances – seemingly growing up in front of our eyes. The Visit is told from the siblings’ point-of-view as they each “document” their one-week visit to their maternal grandparents’ house. What transpires is a haunting look at how these children perceive their parents separation, the indecencies of aging, and unexpected psychological horrors.
The film is a challenge to form, genre and the senses. Hitchcock’s Psycho changed the way we view mother/son relationships and The Visit will change the way we think about grandparents – forever…