Thoughts on M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit

[Spoiler possible]

The Visit is a special film for its director and screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan: On the one hand it brought him an artistic and critical comeback, on the other hand it gave him a new, fresh style. Not to mention that it is Shyamalan’s only found-footage movie!

Shyamalan remains true to himself and his themes

The core of The Visit is a dysfunctional family. The mother lives with son and daughter with her new boyfriend. The real father is missing. In addition, she has fallen out with her parents, so that the two children have never seen their grandparents. But this is supposed to change now! The driving force here is not the mother, but the children are the reason for the contact with her parents. It would be too bad if they never get to see grandpa and grandma… Here, two classic Shyamalan themes are the movie’s starting point: a family in crisis and the power of the children.

Especially the children are important. After all, they are supposed to bring the family back together by staying with their grandparents. Rebecca, the daugther, tries to achieve this with her cinematic talent. The film as a means of healing.

Another classic motif of Shyamalan are psychological, psychiatric elements. Thus, Tyler’s desire to keep everything clean is his way of keeping control of his life since his father’s departure. And the psychological problems of grandma and grandpa are the ultimate piece of the puzzle in the film. In a certain way, The Visit is based solely on a psychologically ill premise. It can be assumed that Shyamalan is always strongly influenced for his stories by his wife, who is a psychologist.

Shyamalan’s taking up recurring motifs

The Visit also reflects some other motifs from Shyamalan’s cinematic universe. This is exciting to watch. There are for example:

  • The rocking chair (reference to The Village)
  • The children’s swing (allusion to The Happening)
  • Trees filmed from below (allusion to The Village)
  • The importance of water in the history of grandma (allusion to Lady in the Water and Signs)
  • Creepy old people (allusion to The Happening)
  • The central station and trains (allusion to Unbreakable, Split, Glass and The Happening)
  • Philadelphia and its surroundings as a place of action (all films)
  • Almost only one location (the grandparents’ house) (in Signs the house of the Hess family, in Split Kevin’s cellar vault, in Glass the Psychiatry, in Lady in The Water the apartment complex etc.)
  • The use of reflections (allusion to The Sixth Sense, Signs etc.)

There are surely more, here is only a part of it. Especially the use of reflections is interesting, because it is a sign which can be interpreted as a hint to twists: Suddenly the story is reflected in a whole new light. And that’s where we would have already arrived at the last point: The almost usual Shyamalan twist is also found in this movie!

Shyamalan’s new style and further remarks

The most striking difference first: the choice of found footage genre. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever expect Shyamalan to make a found-footage film. After his technically perfect but relatively classical filmed first films, it seemed impossible that the filmmaker would surrender to this “low” style. But this is how it happened – and the result was overwhelming! The Visit takes everything positive from the genre and strips off the negative aspects (too much jerking, too amateurish, bad storytelling). Shyamalan’s stroke of genius here was to take as one of the main characters a budding filmmaker who just wants to make a good quality documentary.

The Visit ushered in a new Shyamalan era: Limit the budget and cinematic resources to allow more creativity on the set; engage new, young talents (camera > Maryse Alberti or Mike Gioulakis / editing > Luke Ciarrocchi / music > none or West Dylan Thordson etc.), try a new visual style (more dynamic image composition, faster editing, younger actors) etc.

And then there is also the ton of the film. The Visit is truly unique. In it horror is very close to comedy, a bit like in The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier, 2018). The dichotomy between horror and horror satire is just great. You will never laugh so hard at a movie while in the same moment being so wholly terrified. That was never seen in a Shyamalan film before (even not in The Happening).

Compared to the films between 1999 and 2006, the new films may have lost some of their depth since The Visit. They are also no longer so complex and so lyrical. But they radiate freshness, something dynamic and a lot of creativity. It’s almost as if Shyamalan makes “younger” movies with increased age! That’s a damn twist!


Picture: Copyright Universal Pictures

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