The Visit, 2015.
Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie and Kathryn Hahn.
A young filmmaker and her wannabe rapper brother get more than they bargained for when they spend a bizarre week with their grandparents, whose one rule is that the kids don’t leave their room after 9:30pm.
It’s understandable that the release of any new film from M Night Shyamalan is met with a degree of healthy skepticism. Since stunning the world with the iconic twist ending to The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has increasingly alienated viewers with big-budget misfires such as The Last Airbender and 2013’s pitiful Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth. He returns to low-budget horror with his latest film The Visit, which is an amiably ridiculous chiller with a dark sense of humour.
Initially, the film grates with its use of the over-familiar found footage gimmick. However, we soon learn that protagonist Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) is a documentary filmmaker, putting together a movie on her family. Aiding her is younger brother (Ed Oxenbould), who delivers freestlye raps whilst apparently remaining oblivious to the casual misogyny of his lyrics. In order to give their mother (an underused Kathryn Hahn) a break, the kids elect to visit their estranged grandparents (stage actors Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) out in their secluded farm. Things are initially peachy, but it soon becomes clear that these grandparents are odd people. Nana wanders around naked at night, vomiting, and Pop Pop has a stack of soiled adult nappies in his shed.
The Visit gives us Shyamalan on delightfully restrained form, at least intially. He allows the characters to breathe in the early stages as the dread builds slowly, rather than blowing its wad with cheap jump scares. This pacing also makes it easier to bed in the found footage aspect, which quickly begins to feel like the heart of the movie rather than a simple gimmick. There’s a real off-kilter humour to these early stages, helped by Oxenbould who proves to have tremendous comic timing and a likeable chemistry with precocious sister DeJonge, even as she occasionally irritates with her over-written cinephile dialogue.
The heart of the film in terms of performance though is Deanna Dunagan, as the clearly troubled Nana. She showcases a tremendous ability to flip her performance from sweetness and light to terrifying insanity in the matter of seconds. Peter McRobbie does solid work to as Pop Pop, in a less showy performance but one that also packs in its fair share of horror and threat in the film’s later stages.
As you’d perhaps expect from M. Night Shyamalan, The Visit boasts a huge plot twist in its final stages. It’s a delightful plot turn that immediately changes the face of the film – from mysterious foreboding to terrifying threat. What follows is the most uncomfortable game of Yahtzee ever and a finale that throws just about everything it has at the audience in ludicrous fashion. After more than an hour of slow build-up, it’s just the kind of balls-to-the-wall pay-off that such a crazy film deserves.
The Visit is far from being a perfect film and does suffer from Shyamalan’s trademark proclivity for excessive mayhem. However, thanks to some solid scares and a perfectly unveiled twist, The Visit emerges as a very strong horror movie and, dare I say it, a return to form for M Night Shyamalan.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★