Thursday, October 1, 2015

I once was Night, but now I'm Found

Found footage, that is.

Some people may be willing to go with the "once lost, now found" narrative for M. Night Shyamalan's career in terms of The Visit, but I'll only go as far as "found" in terms of found footage.

The Visit is almost certainly Shyamalan's best movie since Signs, but given the string of turkeys on his resume, that's pretty faint praise.

Still, it looks good and is genuinely creepy in parts, which means that it has already surpassed two-thirds of his filmography. (Most of those others looked good, but most of them made us laugh at the times they were supposed to be creeping us out.)

The "looks good" part is one of the causes for concern, though, because this is supposed to be a found footage movie. I mean, it is a found footage movie -- the "supposed to be" part relates to the fact that it's meant to look like it was shot by an amateur. Or two amateurs, in this case a teenage brother and sister. That it does not, and that's part of the problem.

Another problem is that there's something basically depressing about someone like Shyamalan having to try to find his groove in a genre as dessicated as found footage. There have actually been a number of found footage movies I've really liked in the past few years, such as Ti West's The Sacrament and Adam Robitel's The Taking of Deborah Logan, which actually covers thematically similar territory to The Visit. Still, it feels like a desperate refuge for someone like Shyamalan, who made his initial reputation on a tightly controlled type of compositional formalism. Then again, if there was anyone more desperate for something new than Shyamalan, I don't know who it would be.

Only the subgenre of found footage is new, though, really. There's a getting back to his basics element of The Visit that is surely causing those who are praising the movie to praise it. (I am not one of those who praises it, though I do marginally recommend it.)

In fact, it's kind of funny how many of Shyamalan's previous concerns are represented here in one way or another. And I'll be including a couple Visit spoilers here, so if that's a concern for you, you can stop reading now.

One of the most effective moments in The Sixth Sense, the one that still gives me a chill as I'm typing it now, is when that sick girl, the one whose mother is poisoning her, emerges vomiting from under that blanket. Well wouldn't you know it, vomiting factors prominently into the first night the kids detect there's anything wrong with their grandmother. The girl sees her walking straight forward downstairs and spewing up her dinner. The impact is significantly less in this film.

When the boy rises up and attacks his "grandfather" (not really his grandfather) at the end, it's very reminiscent of the "swing away" ending to Signs. Both involve a character who had been stunted in an athletic competition in their past, which had been eating away at them. Both moments involve that character taking action and atoning for their previous inaction, in order to save the day. This moment actually even has a bit of the ending of After Earth in it, as that also involved a boy who had to rise up and conquer his fears in a kill or be killed scenario.

Then there are little things that call back to his other films. The general affect of these grandparents is reminiscent of how the people in The Happening behave before they kill themselves. The stark appearance of the trees and other environment reminds a person a bit of The Village. And that part where the boy magically conjures a wall of ice to defeat an army of soldiers arriving by sea is straight out of The Last Airbender.

Wait, scratch that last one.

But despite the fact that he has made a blatantly unbelievable version of a found footage movie, and also is blatantly ripping off his own filmography, and also is blatantly ripping off other tired horror tropes (some of the way the grandmother is visualized owes a lot to Ringu and other Asian horror in which the hair obscures the character's eyes), The Visit is still quite watchable and has some enjoyable moments.

It also has likely bought Shyamalan, who already seemed to owe the longevity of his career to a deal with the devil, another couple movies.

Perhaps enough time to truly be found.

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