Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Review by Billy Lyons
Shyamalan burst onto the movie scene with 1999’s The Sixth Sense, a hit with moviegoers and critics alike. The Sixth Sense was followed by Unbreakable and Signs, which also enjoyed success, but to a much lesser degree. Later Shyamalan movies such as Lady in the Water, The Village, and Devil (all seriously underrated films, in my opinion) were panned almost unanimously, the general consensus being that Shyamalan’s work had become pretentious, and that his trademark surprise endings were forced, desperate attempts to recapture the spirit of The Sixth Sense.
I happen to be a fan of both Shyamalan and found footage movies, so I was thrilled when I heard about his latest project, The Visit. My excitement grew when I discovered that the film was produced by Jason Blum, whose credits include some of my favorite horror movies of the last few years, films such as Insidious, Sinister, and The Lords of Salem. It has been a long time since I’ve geeked-out so hard over a movie release.
The Visit is the story of Becca and Tyler, two young siblings who travel far from home to stay with the grandparents they’ve never met. An ancient argument over a boyfriend led Becca and Tyler’s mother to leave home and cut ties with her parents, but when they contact her after many years and ask to see their grandchildren, she agrees and puts them on the next train out.
Becca, the older of the siblings, decides to document their trip on camera in the hopes that when their mother watches the video she will forget past disagreements and make an effort to reconcile with her parents. Tyler agrees to help, and the kids begin their journey with great excitement and high expectations. Almost as soon as they walk through the front door, however, things start to get weird.
Pop Pop is the prototypical Crotchety Old Man who likes to complain incessantly about how old he and his wife are, and when he isn’t complaining, he’s hiding out in the barn, getting up to God knows what. Nana is the spitting image of any kindly grandmother found inside a fairy tale, but this cozy appearance is at direct odds with her bizarre behavior, such as the time she asks Becca to clean the oven, but insists that she crawl all the way inside to do it. Things aren’t any better at night, when Becca and Tyler are kept awake by weird noises coming from just outside their bedroom door.
At night they set the camera on a shelf overlooking the family room downstairs, a la Paranormal Activity, to discover who (or what) is making all the strange noises. When they view the footage their worst fears are quickly confirmed, and they find themselves thrown in the middle of a brutal struggle to escape the terror that surrounds them on all sides.
A great deal of The Visit’s success has to do with the strong performances given by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould, who portray Becca and Tyler. DeJong, as the precocious Becca, sets out to make her film much like a young Fellini might, and throws around terms like mise-en-scène with the same enthusiasm other kids her age use when discussing Kim Kardashian’s ass. At the same time, Oxenberg provides welcome comic relief that does a great job of cutting through the considerable tension found throughout the movie. A great example of this is when Tyler, who is determined to stop swearing, decides to use the names of popular female musicians instead of curse words. My favorite part of the movie is when he falls unexpectedly and shouts “Sarah McLachlan!”
Along with The Visit’s strong characterizations, there is a thick, creepy atmosphere throughout the movie, one filled with horrors more psychological than supernatural. Shyamalan understands, and effectively conveys to his audience, that the terrors associated with such maladies as mental illness and dementia are just as scary (if not more so) than any possessed doll or haunted house could ever be.
And yes, there is a surprise ending, and it’s quite a good one, as a matter of fact.
The bottom line is that The Visit is typical M. Night Shyamalan fare: sympathetic characters, unique plot, heavy mood, and a twist at the end. If you liked his other films, chances are you’ll enjoy this one as well. Those who don’t will use The Visit as their latest proof that Shyamalan fizzled out long ago. But don’t just take it from me. After all, I’m the biggest Patriots fan on the planet, so what do I know? Go see it yourself and make up your own mind.