Ever since the movie Sixth Sense came out, I make it a point to watch every film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. When Signs came out, it was confirmed that M. Night was my new favorite director. But then came Unbreakable, The Village, and Lady in the Water, all of which were disappointing. He tried again with Glass, Split, and Old, and they, too, didn’t really do it for me. I know, I know- I am more a fan of supernatural horror films then psychological, so when he went from Ghosts and Aliens in his first two films to mental health issues in his latter, they don’t strike the same chord for me.
But then came The Visit…
In The Visit, two teenagers leave Philadelphia to meet and stay with their grandparents in the country. The big sister is a rookie documentary filmmaker who never sets the camera down, and she gives her freestyle-rapping-little brother a camera to do the same. So we see the world from both of their lenses. The kids quickly realize that their grandparents are bat-shit-crazy, and the craziness intensifies at night. The longer they stay, the more they realize that their grandparents are dangerous and they have to get out of there.
So what makes the grandparents so crazy?
When I watched The Visit for first time a few years ago, I had never heard of “Sundown Syndrome,” but just the other day I ran into an old friend of my mother’s who told me that her mother had recently passed away after dealing with Sundown Syndrome for three months. She described her loving, peaceful 80 + year old mother erupting in anger when the sun went down. Yelling and screaming and ripping the curtains down. It was hard to believe, but true. And this is what the Grandmother deals with in The Visit.
The grandpa had his own issues. Incontinence, paranoia, amnesia, psychosis, depression, suicidal ideations, highs and lows. A whole heap of issues both above and below the surface.
And then of course…. there was a twist, which I will not reveal!
The phrase that comes to mind more than any other regarding this movie is mise en scene. What the hell is mise en scene? You might be asking… Well, mise en scene is a French term that describes everything included in the scene.
Since The Village is a horror film, what is captured in the scene often leads to anxious feelings of anticipation regarding what is about to jump out. The lighting was either natural and outdoors or dark and indoors. The props were creepy and mysterious, from a rope swing to an oven, a butcher knife to a shed, a mirror to a diaper, every prop leaves the viewer wondering what is going to happen next. The settings provide a confined feeling, from a remote country cottage where escape is impossible to a small car, a cozy kitchen to a bedroom with a locked door, every scene creates the feeling that the kids are going to be grabbed by the grandparents become victims of insanity. M.Night’s ability to create tension in every scene is what make this film so great.
Toward the end of the movie the kids’ mom holds them and says them something along the lines of, “Do not hold onto your anger,” which leads me to another topic…
Speaking of insanity and mental health issues… on Tuesday a student flipped me off and said, “Fuck you, Stark!” After I asked him, “Where are you going?” While he stormed away from our outdoor kickball game toward the school. His classmates saw and whispered to each other, “He just flipped off, Mr. Stark,” “He gets away with anything,” and “If I did that…”
And the thing is, our society has made it possible for certain “special” individuals to get away with anything. Some psychiatrist claims that this young person doesn’t know the effects of their actions, and because of this they are free from punishment. How many adults get away with murder due to the “insanity defense?” What is in store for this young person’s future? It is scary to think about.
I talked to the principal about the issue and said, “Okay, so as somebody with a PTSD diagnosis from combat in a war zone, what keeps me from getting away with beating this little kid’s ass for threatening me? I mean, hell, I felt threatened at the time.”
“The difference is that you are an adult who knows better. The only thing this kid has is the ability to yell cuss words. “
So there is a wavering line in the sand where our boundaries are crossed, just like the children in The Visit. It’s one thing to see your delicate little grandmother puking in the middle of the night, it’s another thing to see her standing outside your bedroom door with a butcher knife. It’s one thing to let a little kid with low self-esteem and anger problems scream cuss words at you in front of his classmates, it is another thing if he is coming at you with a sharpened pencil.
To summarize this blog post, we all deal with mental health issues, family struggles, feelings of isolation, and mistrust. It’s how we deal with these issues that separates the murderers from the saints.