Negative reviews can be fun to read. They can also be fun to write. And few filmmakers have occasioned the writing of a greater number of negative reviews over the last decade or so than M. Night Shyamalan. Following his breakthrough with The Sixth Sense, his underrated followup, Unbreakable, and the intriguing but not entirely successful Signs, Shyamalan’s career has been in a seemingly bottomless free fall. The Village was bad, though it looks pretty good in comparison to what followed. Lady in the Water was flamboyantly bad, and The Happening was so bad that it could scarcely be reviewed, only enunciated. Shyamalan’s fantasy adaptation, The Last Airbender, was terrible enough to instantly snuff out discussion of hoped-for sequels, and his Will-Smith-family vanity project, After Earth, was the worst–reviewed movie of its star’s career.
It is thus with some surprise—and perhaps even a hint of disappointment—that I must report that Shyamalan’s latest movie, The Visit, is merely mediocre. It’s a modest undertaking and one with its share of flaws. But it’s not the breathtaking calamity that we’ve come to anticipate from its author.
Begin with the fact that the movie is a horror-comedy. For a filmmaker so drawn to the fantastic (ghosts, aliens, floating arboreal toxins), Shyamalan has always been remarkably self-serious, with the result that the laughs in his films—of which there have been plenty—have almost always been unintended. (Remember “The Old Shed That Is Not To Be Used”? And “I hear wind from outside”? Those were good ones.) With The Visit, Shyamalan lightens up a bit and earns himself some much-needed goodwill.