Synopsis: In The Visit, a single mother finds that things in her family’s life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents.
Release Date: September 11, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Horror
In 1999, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan struck gold with The Sixth Sense, but his output since then has been inconsistent enough to turn the filmmaker into a bit of a pop-culture joke. He keeps making movies, however, and those movies keep making money. His newest offering is the cool little horror/comedy The Visit.
The Visit begins with a budding teenage filmmaker named Becca (Olivia DeJonge from “Hiding”) and her wannabe-rapper brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), being sent off to meet and stay with their grandparents, whom they’ve never met, on a Pennsylvania farm while their mother (Afternoon Delight‘s Kathryn Hahn) goes on vacation. As soon as they arrive, Becca and Tyler get weird vibes from Nana (Have a Little Faith‘s Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie from Lincoln and Aloft).
First, there are the rules – silly things like don’t go near the basement and stay in your room after 9:30 pm. Then, they start to see Nana crawling around the house at night, scratching at the walls, while Pop Pop seems to be hiding something in the shed outside. As more events unfold, Becca and Tyler realize that there’s something wrong with their grandparents that goes much deeper than simple old age.
The Visit represents a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan; the director takes his approach back to the basic roots of storytelling with no extensive CG visual effects, extravagant subplots, or big-name stars to speak of in the film. It’s just a simple story about a couple of kids having a spooky adventure – it could almost be a long episode of “Goosebumps” or “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. Because Becca enlists her brother to help her make a documentary about meeting their grandparents for the first time, the narrative is told through the eyes of the kids.
The Visit is being sold as a horror/comedy, but it’s really more of a suspenseful mystery. And there are plenty of mysteries in the film – what is Pop Pop hiding in the shed, why is the basement off-limits, why has the kids’ mom been keeping them from meeting their grandparents for so long? Some of the mysteries are solved, some aren’t, and some stop mattering completely by the end of the film. But, no matter which mystery is being solved or forgotten, The Visit is never boring or tedious, and that’s a big win for a Shyamalan movie.
And speaking of Shyamalan, the first question everyone is going to ask about The Visit is whether or not there’s a twist in it. Yes, there’s a twist, and boy, is it a doozy. It comes a little earlier in the film than a normal Shyamalan twist, and the movie kind of goes downhill in the third act after the big revelation is exposed, but that’s just a symptom of shocking the audience; it’s natural for a bit of air to come out of the sails once the viewer’s breath is taken away. It’s still a fun movie, and it is easily Shyamalan’s best since Signs, maybe his best since The Sixth Sense. With The Visit, Shyamalan proves the old adage that says “simple is better.”
Even though The Visit is a “found footage,” faux-documentary style movie, the cinematography is meticulously storyboarded and tirelessly planned out, so every frame is extremely cinematic. The film was shot by director of photography Maryse Alberti, who has worked both on award-winning documentaries (West of Memphis, Crumb) as well as highly regarded fiction films (The Wrestler, Velvet Goldmine), and her versatile skills behind the camera are firmly on display. The character of Becca is an aspiring filmmaker, making references to lighting, focal length, and mise en scène throughout the movie, so the well-crafted composition is organic and realistic; it’s much more beautifully shot than a typical found footage movie because Becca pays close attention to how she and her brother are capturing the story.
There are also two cameras going most of the time, one with Becca and the other with Tyler, so the ample photographic coverage is explained as well. So, basically what The Visit delivers is a documentary that is perfectly executed for the highest degree of tension and suspense – every shot is very well constructed, even though it’s supposed to have been shot on the fly. What the kids’ cameras see is what the viewer gets. And it looks great.
Although it has its moments, The Visit doesn’t really live up to the comedy tag that accompanies it. Most of the humor is provided by Ed Oxenbould’s Tyler, and the kid is pretty hilarious, whether he’s making up freestyle raps off the top of his head or trying to curse less by substituting female pop singer’s names for swear words (“Shakira! Sarah McLachlan!”). Tyler and his antics are able to coax a handful of laughs out of the audience, but not enough for the film to truly be considered a comedy, just enough to break the tension every once in a while. The Visit is entertaining, but aside from Tyler’s shenanigans (which have nothing to do with the main plot of the film), it’s not especially funny.
The scares in The Visit are just as limited as the laughs; the film isn’t nearly as horrifying as the hype surrounding it would lead one to believe. Of course, there are the requisite jump scares, but they’re not set up well enough to shock and rely mostly on the volume of the sound effects. The scariest scene in the film occurs when Becca and Tyler are playing hide and seek in the crawlspace under the house and they see – something that will not be spoiled here.
Just know that it gets the biggest scare in the film. There are a couple of glimpses of some disturbing imagery, and Nana’s nocturnal creeping could raise its share of goosebumps if the viewer was in the right environment as well, but other than that, The Visit timidly earns its PG-13 rating. It’s suspenseful and thrilling, but not scream-out-loud scary.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): M. Night Shyamalan
- Producer(s): Jason Blum, M. Night Shyamalan, Marc Bienstock
- Screenwriter(s): M. Night Shyamalan
- Cast: Olivia DeJonge (Becca), Ed Oxenbould (Tyler), Deanna Dunagan (Nana), Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop), Kathryn Hahn (Mom), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Stacey), Jorge Cordova (Miguel), Patch Darragh (Dr. Sam), Samuel Stricklen (Conductor), Benjamin Kanes (Dad)Ocean James (Younger Becca), Seamus Moroney (Young Tyler)
- Editor(s): Luke Franco Ciarrocchi
- Cinematographer: Maryse Alberti
- Costume Designer: Amy Westcott
- Casting Director(s): Douglas Aibel
- Country Of Origin: USA