The Visit (2015, M. Night Shyamalan)

First off, happy SHOCKtober. I kicked off the season with the restored Phantasm at the Alamo. Surprisingly complicated mythology for a late-1970’s indie horror. I’ve covered the series before and will be watching again when blu-rays (and part five) come out. I want to say I noticed the Bad Robot 4K remastering job and that the movie’s new transfer was a revelation, but nah – I’ll probably have to compare a couple scenes to the old DVD to notice the difference.

In related news, I never understood the “happy holidays” War On Christmas controversy until I started seeing everyone refer to SHOCKtober with the bland name “31 days of horror”. Come on, people.

“It’s exploitative. I have cinematic standards”
“No one gives a crap about cinematic standards, okay? It’s not the 1800’s.”

His last few movies got some rough press coverage, so this is the first M. Night movie I’ve watched in a decade, since Lady in the Water (which I liked). And it’s… pretty good. Said to be a “found footage” movie, but that seems a misuse of the term. It’s a fake documentary “shot” by its teen actors – and edited by them too, since they survive the ordeal, so the footage hasn’t been “found” Blair Witch-style.

Mom Kathryn Hahn (Parks & Rec) hasn’t spoken to her parents in 15 years but they wanna meet their grandkids, so she sends her two preposterous teens – pretentious-vocabulary Becca and junior-rapper Tyler – to visit them alone. The twist that they’re not really the grandparents but mental patients who have murdered the real grandparents and stashed them in the basement occurred to me pretty early, so instead I pondered why they’re doing it.

A couple of good things: the first-person camera technique is obviously being controlled by a very good cameraman (or the kids have been well-trained to hit their framing marks). Documentary-vet DP Maryse Alberti also shot Velvet Goldmine, and despite what I’ve heard about M. Night’s Last Airbender 3D debacle, he wants his movies to look good, so we don’t get an indifferent-looking movie. And for most of the movie, the “horror” is explained away by the fake-grandparents as embarrassing troubles of old age. The secret in the barn is incontinent grandpa’s old diapers, and the bumpy scratchy noises in the night are caused by grandma’s sleep disorder. So it was heading in an interesting direction (aging is the true horror) but then no, they’re psycho killers. I thought the emotional epilogue about forgiveness worked better than the critics seemed to.

Adam Cook in Cinema Scope was feeling emotional as well:

[Post-twist] the film gains a new dimension, one that upon a second viewing reveals the film to be aching with pain, not just between our heroes with regards to their father, but between this mentally ill couple who, in their own demented way, are trying also to reconnect with their deceased children – who died by their hands. Mental illness has figured into most of Shyamalan’s films, and the separation between sane and insane is an uneasy one that complicates the film’s layers of trauma … Found-footage horror may seem an unlikely way to create a tender portrait of damaged people clinging to each other, but then again Shyamalan’s tales have always used unusual means to tell personal stories of hope that resonate deeply – that is if you can take the leaps of faith they require.