By Thomas Simpson
Love him or hate him, M. Night Shyamalan rarely bores. Known for his clever, or ludicrous twists, the director has been out of favor with critics for the better part of a decade, not without good reason. His latest film sees him team up with successful producer Jason Blum whose production company is known for tight budgets and returning impressive box office numbers, especially in the horror genre. The Visit may look like another found footage film, but with Shyamalan at the helm you can expect something different.
Children of a broken home, Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) decide to go spend a week with their grandparents so that their mother can go on holiday with her new boyfriend. Rebecca is making a documentary and hopes to get the truth of why her mother and grandparents haven’t spoken in years. At first Nanna (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) seem fine. Sure, they’re a little peculiar but they’re old and maybe even a little eccentric. Events take a more sinister turn as the sun goes down with Rebecca and Tyler fearing their own family.
Despite looking like a found footage film, The Visit utilizes more of a mockumentary approach. The realism aspect allows Shyamalan to leave a static camera on his subjects, a technique he uses to generate great tension. The quick paced handheld footage is expertly used in one terrifying sequence as Nanna chases the two kids under the house in a ghastly game of hide and seek.
As scary as that scene is, this isn’t a straight horror. There are many comedic elements included that sometimes conflict with the initial tone. What adds to the confusion is the insistence on driving home the emphasis on The Visit as a family drama. What starts off as a subplot, with exposition padding out the plot, turns into the overall arch of the script. The climax of the film removes any dread that’s been created and also includes a bizarre yet humorous end credit sequence.
This being Shyamalan, you’d expect a twist, and unlike The Happening he doesn’t disappoint. Many will groan that they saw it coming a mile away, but I was thankful that I didn’t. Once the initial reveal is laid bare, you can see where the story is going but the director manages to avoid some horror tropes even if it is to the detriment of the film.
The Visit is a confusing film that tries to be too many things. What’s interesting is that it succeeds at being effective in whatever genre that scene has set itself in however as an overall movie it tends to become a bit of a head-scratcher.
It’s sentimental, scary and hilarious although it doesn’t always make for a good match with contrasting moods. For a film that injects a lot of fun into the horror, it takes itself too seriously in the end, focusing too much on the documentary within and not enough on the fictional output. It’s a little convoluted but Shyamalan’s latest effort provides enough entertainment to warrant a visit to the cinema.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.