By Bill Arceneaux
Sometime around The Village, M. Night Shyamalan’s “sense of humor” began to break away and become a monster. A monster unlike any from his movies. Sure, glimmers of oddities existed before, like in the classroom sequence of The Sixth Sense, but he never relied heavily on it to tell a story, instead focusing on the craft of suspense and mystery. Of course, come to The Happening – a film where Mark Wahlberg, a public school science teacher, runs away from the breeze – M. Night became a sort of joke himself. Just the mere mention of his name in the credits would bring about laughter.
THAT’S a powerful reaction and perception.
His new “original” film, The Visit, seems to tackle these perceptions head on and with gusto. It’s clear that M. Night knows how audiences feel about him, but does he care to change it? The Visit suggests that, perhaps, he’ll just use it all as fuel for his filmmaking that, I say, is the smart move. And, trust me when I say, The Visit is a fairly smart movie. Sure, there are elderly shenanigans and “general poopery” (you’ll know what I mean when it happens) at play, not to mention the fact that this is more a dark comedy of unfortunate events than straight up horror – a pleasant surprise given that the trailer for a Christmas horror straight out of the ‘80s, Krampus, played prior to the screening. Yes, a pleasant surprise.
Here and there, I squirmed in my seat at the sound of dialogue that felt like jokes from a Michael Bay flick, and was reminded of Jake Lloyd’s acting as Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace (true horror). However, when you give in to the notion that what we’re watching was shot and cut by a two-person team of siblings, you start to feel comfortable. They’re spunky, they’re contemporary, and they’re on fire. It’s an energy I haven’t been used to in a decade, so you’ll excuse my eye-rolling behavior when seated.
The near brilliant element to The Visit is in expressing to us a film within a film that, very slyly, deals in self-perception and of those being observed. Sure, it jumps into found footage territory momentarily, but don’t let that fool you. Instead of being raw video strung together, we get something cut with purpose and vision. It comments not only on the events that happened but on how it’s presenting the events that happened. I’m trying very hard not to spoil anything, but the very framing device of the movie suggests the end results. So, how about I explain via a bullet list? Here:
- There are three sets of eyes behind this movie within the movie: those of the cameramen the director and the editor. Each set is seeing the events from a different perspective and understanding.
- The language and fabric of cinema are brought up and put on display. We see as the director changes course and learns as the events continue. We see both in present and in the future tense, through the camera, direction and the editing.
- Ultimately, the movie within is used as a weapon against what happened, both literally and figuratively.
What M. Night cooked up is a clever film school lecture blended with a twisted story using a tired genre. It’s almost a sight to behold once you move away from the ROFL moments – and there are quite a few. Did criticism of his work cause this filmmaker to break down and make a scaled back examination of the medium we all love? I dunno. But I like this guy. Where was he when kids were bending the air?
4 / 5 *s
For more from the author, follow him on Twitter at @BillReviews and @FlickFadeCast