The Visit is an odd movie. Billed as a “horror”, the movie is surprisingly more of a dark comedy, but it would be disingenuous to say that there isn’t some terror beneath the surface. If M. Night Shyamalan’s intentions were to create a straight up horror film, then he failed miserably, but fortunately for the spooky-yet-weird it’s clear that there is a heavy amount of old people parody permeating what are supposed to be unnerving moments.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are shipped off to their grandparents’ house in rural Pennsylvania for a week after their mother (Kathryn Hahn) goes off on a sea cruise with her new boyfriend. They’ve never met Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan), but are excited to learn about their mother’s roots and why she left her parents so abruptly many years ago. Becca and Tyler start to fear for their lives as increasingly weird and dangerous things happen over the course of the week.
There is a scene early on in the film where the children and grandfather are out and about the city, where the paranoid old basket case is, for no reason, convinced that the stranger across the street is stalking him. So what does grandpa do? He simply strikes the guy which some could find hilarious. However, looking at it has the underlying sense of terror about what the elderly could be about from realistic and satire standpoint.
Some say this film was boring in many ways, but whether you like the film or not is almost totally dependent on your patience and how satiated you are with the final 15 or so minutes. The Visit is the kind of film that leads to a builds up of tension until it’s unbearable and then drops the climax like a hammer. And be forewarned, this is the same kind of audience-engaging fare that the Paranormal Activity films are; just not to the extent of grainy handheld shots and shaky cam.
The Visit uses found footage well because it finds a natural way to use it as a story element while also not giving way to its worst qualities. Shyamalan seems much more fascinated playing with the viewer’s expectations of his work than actually producing jump scares. Sure, there are quite a few of the latter but it’s kind of clear that the once-prolific director is struggling with going back to what people used to love. The trademark plot twists are front and center in the film, but they aren’t nearly bizarre enough to be considered unique or a “change” for the director.
As exciting as those final 20 minutes are however, much of The Visit never really hits that same level of excitement. There is a certain aura to the grandparents and their strange behavior, but a lot of it falls flat simply because there is no character definition. However, to the movie’s credit, it is like that simply because the twist would not work otherwise. The performances from both of the grandparents are always a pleasure to watch though, often portraying quiet and reserved personalities to cranking things up to over-the-top crazy levels on a dime. Opposite of them the performances from the kids can be a little nervy w/ the immaturity of the 13 year old or the bossy yet-annoying approach of the older sister
The Visit is Shyamalan’s best film in years, which isn’t saying much. It’s incredibly refreshing to know that a filmmaker can and is willing to return to his roots to mine for things he’s lost over years of making high-budgeted studio flicks, though. As the twist is dumb fun and audiences are going to have a blast being simultaneously frightened while laughing at the lunacy of it all.