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You might wonder why film critics matter. Aren’t all opinions equally valid? Of course. Taste is entirely subjective. But a critic brings something else to the table: a greater knowledge of film history and technique, not to mention witty banter, or even occasionally memorable prose. The reasons are many, but for our purposes, a film columnist serves one specific function: to suffer so you don’t have to.
Most weeks, watching movies is a joy. Other weeks, though, I am Alex from “A Clockwork Orange,” forced to engage cinematic worlds where “The Visit,” a found-footage horror film directed by once-great M. Night Shyamalan, evokes the saddest of yawns.
I commend the man for treading new ground. In the wake of four flops, “The Visit” seems like a glimmer of hope in a once-thriving filmography. All it took was a change of genre. He likes his horror mysteries and those imminent twist endings. So why not tell the same story in found-footage form? Compared to those films, Shyamalan is the Hitchcockian savior he so desires to be. But that’s a low bar.
At 94 minutes, few films dabble in self-importance, surprisingly effective jolts and mediocre character development with such resolve. It all circles one mystery: what’s up with Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler’s (Ed Oxenbould) grandparents? Are they just having trouble aging gracefully or is a phantom menace afoot?
The young siblings fill Shyamalan’s usual quota of young talent. But this story relies on how creepy Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are as the kids’ estranged ancestors. Like most horror films, events unfold slowly – an eerie gaze, an uncharacteristic remark, general absent-mindedness.
And then night comes. Nana has quite the sleepwalking talent, and Pop Pop hides his own secret in the shed. It’s really disgusting –– you’ll cringe come the climax. At times, Dunagan and McRobbie perform convincingly, but as the crazy emerges, it’s difficult to take the pair seriously. I’ll forever remember Nana shrieking, “Yahtzee,” with a mouthful of cookies.
As for that inevitable twist, part of it is unfortunately easy to figure out. The other part defuses any of the remaining tension in the story. Sorry folks, no ghosts unaware they’re dead here.
At one point, “The Visit” almost seems like a prequel to “Signs.” That would’ve been promising, albeit shameless. At least Shyamalan doesn’t cameo this time. I guess that speaks to a level of waning hubris.
If this weren’t a film by Mr. Shyamalan, whose “The Sixth Sense” remains an insanely profitable film (over $600 million worldwide on a $40 million budget), we’d all be discussing another film – likely with car chases or an underdog trying to overcome impossible odds. Yet here we are, and I can’t fathom why anyone would need to bother with “The Visit.” It’s only interesting if you know the writer and director’s tarnished past.
I imagine other critics haven’t entirely panned this one because it’s better than “The Last Airbender,” or the director’s other films from the last 11 years. Sorry, but not everyone deserves a trophy. No points for effort. The bar is the same, and we shouldn’t have to lower it simply to claim it’s not as bad as “The Happening.” We should just cut our losses and invest in more promising filmmakers.
I bet there’s a K-pop music video director out there primed for the next big thing. That’s where my hope lies, because I’m not sure I can take much more torture from the same source.
Shyamalan is truly for whom the bell tolled, and we must pray he soon says a farewell to the arts, for he is no Hemingway. He’s more like Antonio Salieri, unaware how irrelevant he is. Then again, was he not unlike a critic, consigned to witness greatness, never able to achieve real inspiration? If that’s the case, I need to do some soul searching.
Nope, I like myself, just not Shyamalan’s latest films.
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