On its cinematic release way back in 2015 my esteemed college and great friend Zombie 1 wrote a feature entitled 3 Reasons Why I’m Not Watching The Visit which apart from being hilarious raised the many and varied criticisms that have been cited against M. Night Shyamalan ever since the media and public turned against him – somewhere between the so so Signs and the god awful The Village.
I must admit to agreeing with everything Zombie 1 said, having loved Sixth Sense and Unbreakable to have to sit through Lady in the Water and The Happening was enough to nearly turn me of watching movies forever let alone the rest of Shyamalan’s work.
However I was still intrigued by The Visit mainly because of the trailer which offered up some extremely creepy moments and believing that everyone deserves a second um third maybe seventh chance I decided to watch found footage chiller The Visit leaving behind any Shyamalan-ian preconceptions to give it a fair and honest chance.
What I discovered was The Visit is really two films; one of which is an excellent fear filled horror about two kids visiting their grandparents with great jumps and scares and another which is a trite terrible badly characterised self-referential comedy drama about two highly annoying kids visiting their grandparents.
This schizophrenic dynamic is set up early on as we are introduced to brother and sister Tyler (Ed Oxenbould ) and Becca (Olivia DeJonge) who have never met their Nan and Grandad due to a falling out with their mother that she refuses to discuss.
At 15 Becca is obsessed with film making and decides to document their journey to seek forgiveness and redemption for her mother and undo the wrongs of the past. At 13 Tyler is obsessed with rapping mainly about all his bitches and hoes and this makes him the most annoying child on the planet.
Both of these things are increasing more and more infuriating as the film progresses with Becca’s constant deconstruction of the cinematic art form as painfully meta and pretentious as it sounds as if Shyamalan was desperate for you to realise how clever he was at all times even if it means pissing off everyone in the audience.
This is a dangerous game as found footage is the format that if anything should place you firmly in the heart of the story and by constantly taking you out of the film with its pompous posturing and smart ass commentary on cinema The Visit runs the risk of ruining any tension, identification or believability it has created.
And that’s the sad thing because man is this film tense at times!
As you may have suspected all is not right with Nana and Pop Pop (played brilliantly by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) and the longer the kids stay the stranger their old relations behavior becomes from Nana’s naked night time scratching at their bedroom door to Pop Pop’s secret trips to his locked shed all of which builds to a terrifying and terrific climax.
The disturbing thing is how normal the old people seem and how subtly the scares start with odd lines or looks here and there all written off by the craacters as dementia or simply signs of aging which gradually increase in strangeness till they can no longer be ignored or stopped amping up the sense of dread for the kids and audience.
Usually Grandparents in films are sources of love and affection, a comedy aside with a link to the past and a chance for a son or daughter to learn more about their parents own childhoods however The Visit perverts this notion poisoning our rose tinted perspective and transforming the aged couple into archetypal fairy tale villains perfectly captured in one scene where Becca is made to clean out her Nana’s oven by crawling inside it.
But is there a twist I hear you shout? Of course there is but isn’t there always in a horror with this sort of set up and when it comes it’s not the sort of movie running reveal that Shyamalan undermined his previous works with but more an explanation to what is going on that in many ways intensifies the terror of the ending.
Truly frightening and deeply unsettling at times the found footage is used well in the most horrifying and atmospheric moments and if you could simply watch these scenes from The Visit it might have got 4 or 5 stars however the overly aggravating child characters and flaccid attention seeking film studies lessons in the script ruin what could have been not only a great horror but a true return to form for Shyamalan.