It has been a long time since I’ve looked forward to seeing a new M. Night Shyamalan movie in theaters — nearly ten years, since Lady In The Water came out in 2006. I loved the film, but it was criticized to the point where Shyamalan drew back into the shadows and nearly vanished — after delivering The Happening, which I have referred to as his “temper tantrum” film — Shyamalan’s clearly flipping the bird to those who criticized his style and storytelling.
After that, his name was buried beneath other people’s projects, none of which were high quality enough to garner praise and a nod in Shyamalan’s direction. Just recently, he began investing his own money into a project, chose to partner with someone who has been doing financially quite well for himself in the horror/thriller genre (Jason Blum, from the Paranormal Activity franchise) and gave us The Visit.
This partnership, I believe, made the film stronger: pairing classic Shyamalan energy and a solid commercial backing. It felt closer to earlier Shyamalan films (particularly Wide Awake and Sixth Sense), with a sly overturning of half-a-dozen horror tropes that have taken hold over the last several years.
With an obvious nod to the Grimm tale of Hansel and Gretel, The Visit combines the fairytale, horror, thriller, and family drama genres into a close, creepy tale that asks the question: What makes us monsters?
It isn’t whether we’re living with mental illness or without, nor is it because of what happens to us when we’re young or old, or if we’ve had to make difficult choices or mistakes. What makes us monsters is our choice to live in the darkness of bitterness, regret and hate, leaving no room for joy, hope, or forgiveness.
When we choose bitterness, regret, or hate, we keep what hurt us close by, always ready to attack in a weak moment. We all harbor some bitterness, regret, or hate. We’re human. It isn’t that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel these things, but we do need to feel them, acknowledge them, and then let them go as we move around the cycle toward forgiveness and peace. Allowing bitterness, regret, and hate to continue to reside in oneself only leads to more pain, and turns us into monsters.
Everyone in the film deals with forgiveness in one way or another — accepting it, rejecting it, giving it, withholding it, or dealing with personal forgiveness (or lack of it). Each character must come to terms with the unforgivable, and either be crushed by it or conquer it. Whatever we do, it becomes a part of us and lives on, often continuing into the lives of those around us, including our children, our parents, our friends, and our partners.
It isn’t easy to forgive — especially not ourselves. We are often faced with impossible choices, and making the best of a bad decision is familiar territory for a lot of us. Forgiveness, and self-forgiveness, is not only possible but vital — making peace with our inner demons is the only way to retain our humanity.