M. Night Shyamalan might be moviegoers’ favorite punching bag, but for his latest outing as writer/director, he brought something to deflect the blow.
In “The Visit,” a found footage horror film, all action comes from the camera of teenaged Rebecca Jameson (Olivia DeJonge). She’s an aspiring Albert Maysles who thinks she and her brother Tyler’s (Ed Oxenbould) upcoming trip to their grandparents’ rural Pennsylvania home might make a good subject. Since their mother Paula (Kathryn Hahn) has been estranged from them for years, this visit will mark the first time they meet.
Don’t like a turn the movie takes? Blame it on Rebecca, then. It’s a pretty smart way for Shyamalan to avoid criticism. And if moviegoers land one more punch on the battered director, it might be enough to push him into oblivion for good.
But “The Visit” looks like the first step toward the rehabilitation of his reputation. The film demonstrates a rigor of style and storytelling not seen from Shyamalan since at least 2002’s “Signs.” The limitations of his chosen narrative technique force him to exhibit more creativity and less bombast, both of which he does decently well here.
At times, the script feels a bit retrofitted for the found footage format; various scenes feel unnatural to film but unfortunately necessary to move the plot forward. The scares are a bit on the conventional side, too. Overall, though, “The Visit” proves a satisfying move in the right direction for a director once hailed as the heir to Spielberg. He taps into anxieties about America’s growing gray population while also capturing something true about the current generation of teenagers and how the omnipresence of video guides their every action. B /