What’s the twist here? There has to be a twist, it’s an M. Night Shyamalan film! The twist is…he has finally made a good movie. We know the narrative by now, Shyamalan has put out poor film after poor film. “The Lady in the Water”; the horrible (but funny) “The Happening”; “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth”. That is a string of 4 not just sub-par films but really bad ones at that. I haven’t ever lost hope in Shyamalan because I’ve seen his early films. “Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”, “Signs” and parts of “The Village” are really good, and show off the incredible talent that Shyamalan has.
“The Visit” is a reward for those of us who have been patient for Shyamalan. This may be a small and very contained little film (and won’t be up for any Oscars) but this movie surpasses expectations. “The Visit” isn’t just a good film, it’s a really good film. The movie equals both scary and funny; balancing the two genres out in a pitch perfect harmony and adding a shot of adrenaline into the arms of the found footage genre.
“The Visit” centers around two teenagers. One is a budding young filmmaker and the other is an apprising rapper that has his own YouTube page. They both deal with the departure of their father from a young age and have grown up with their single mother for the majority of their lives but have never met their grandparents. They get the opportunity to spend a week with them while their mother goes on vacation with her boyfriend. The oldest teenager, Becca, decides to make a documentary out of her trip and journey. The grandparents seem odd but it’s easy for the kids to pass them off as just being old and out of touch. As the week continues though, it becomes increasingly apparent that something is seriously wrong with the grandparents.
We know that much from the trailers, something is wrong with the grandparents. We never know exactly what though. The entire time you’ll be wondering to yourself what is exactly wrong with these people? Is it purely psychological? Is it supernatural? Will we even get an answer? The terrifying reality of these kids being stuck in this house with them is there seems to be no escape. The area is remote, and the only contact they really have is through Skype with their mother on occasion (when the camera of Becca’s computer isn’t ruined by her grandmother).
The movie preys on a lot of timely themes going on in the world today. Mental health plays a huge role in the movie which has become a much talked about facet in our society. The theme of families being torn apart and how relevant that is to kids and parents in today’s age. Shyamalan expertly plays off these themes and incorporates them in at the precise moments in the narrative.
What lacks a lot in found footage movies is any sort of compelling characters. Take no further look then this year’s “The Gallows”. A group of random uninteresting teenagers in a bad situation…that’s about it. Here though, the movie slows down at moments to develop its characters. Becca and her little brother Tyler have to confront their fears and grow stronger as people if they are going to be able to survive this event. Plus the found footage angle is Incorporated more into the plot of the movie. Why the hell were people video tapping vandalism in “The Gallows”? The found footage served no purpose at all. Here though Shyamalan finds unique and interesting ways of using it, and factors it all into the plot of the movie (take note filmmakers). Josh Trank’s “Chronicle” did something similar, but I would say this is even smarter in terms of found footage usage.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is a horror-comedy. I’m not sure if the marketing is really capturing that. The rich blend of the two makes from a thoroughly entertaining movie. When you aren’t shivering in fear or looking away from the screen, you’ll probably spend most of your time laughing. Looking back at the film I would say this movie is almost funnier than it is scary. It’s not like “The Happening” where we laugh at the movie because it’s bad, this movie is genuinely funny. It never forgets to be scary either but the two tones (like the found footage) factor into the realms of the plot. It’s scary when it needs to be and it’s funny when it makes sense to be funny. Becca and Tyler defuse a situation by jokes early on, it’s natural. When we were this young, we’d probably be the same way.
The performances by the child actors are terrific. Olivia DeJonge, and Ed Oxenbould own their roles. They act and feel like real teenagers, and have spell binding chemistry. They feel like a true brother and sister, making jokes at each other’s expense, but being there for each other as well. These two young actors show a lot of range for their age and we are sure to see more from them in the coming years.
The two actors playing the set of grandparents are Deanna Dunagan, and Peter McRobbie. What’s delectable about the pair is they carry the traits of the stereotypical grandparents but are able to throw in those subtle hints of unhinged insanity. Deanna Dunagan is the standout of the pair but McRobbie compliments her character nicely as well.
The ending doesn’t have as much impact as you really want it to have but it’s enough to leave you satisfied. The horror is earned and laughs really hit the mark. We won’t know for sure if this is a return to form for Shyamalan until he makes another good movie. But, for now this little horror film is a nice little gem of the 2015 year.