Written by Tommy Tracy
When the name M. Night Shyamalan is uttered, most people tend to laugh as if a hilarious joke was told. Most people remember The Happening, Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender and shudder at the thought of more films made by this guy. But a lot of people fail to remember that Shyamalan has also stuck his name on incredible films such as Signs, The Sixth Sense, the criminally underrated Unbreakable and The Village (yes, it’s a good flick). Shyamalan utilized brilliant direction, terrifying imagery and great (YES, GREAT) plot twists to scare audiences. Alas, Shyamalan seemed to have lost his touch and after The Village continued to release a series of hilariously and infuriatingly bad films. So when I heard about The Visit I couldn’t help say, “Oh, here we go again.” It being found footage was also a major red flag, as I feel this fad has passed. However, when the trailer was released, it actually looked…good. This, mixed with some pre-release buzz actually got me excited for this movie that many have probably rolled their eyes at.
So is The Visit good? Yes, yes it is.
The Visit centers around siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) who embark on a trip to meet their grandparents for the first time. The film starts with Becca interviewing her mother, played by Kathryn Hahn, about why she no longer talks to her parents. They take a trip via train to them and meet their grandparents for the first time. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are beyond thrilled to meet their grandkids. Things seem normal until Pop Pop suggests the kids be in bed by 9:30. Becca and Tyler start to notice weird things happening to their Nana after this time; she scratches the wall naked and runs around the hallway. This happens at night the first few times but the kids notice weird things going on during the day as well. As the days go by, things get weirder and on the last day, all hell breaks loose. Naturally, there’s a patented Shyamalan twist that I feel audiences will be split down the middle on (no spoilers here).
The acting is a highlight of this film. You won’t find a bad actor in the bunch. Becca wants to be a documentary filmmaker, explaining why she carries a camera around all the time. She interviews her mother, Tyler, Nana and Pop Pop about their relationships and her mother’s decision to leave her hometown. She is also a bit like Shyamalan himself. Tyler, her younger brother, is absolutely hilarious in his role, using jokes to lighten the mood. He also aspires to be a rapper and these few moments are incredibly funny. Kathryn Hahn is good in her small part as the kids’ mother but where the film shines is with the grandparents, especially with Nana. She plays insanity so well and keeps you guessing from scene to scene. You never know what she is going to do next. Pop Pop is also great, playing a warm man and then flipping the switch to stoic in an instant.
The ingenious part of this film is, shockingly, the “found footage” aspect. Each sibling uses a camera and when something odd happens, it switches between cameras, showing both reactions and keying you into the fact that Becca has taken the footage from this event and cut it into her documentary. There is also no use of jump scare sounds or score in this film, which is brilliant. The absence of these let’s you lose yourself in the film and believe the events on screen have actually happened. In fact, the only music that you’ll hear is when the characters are actually playing it from their laptop. The directing by Becca also relies a lot on atmosphere and catching her grandparents doing things they don’t are being filmed.
The film, however, is not incredibly scary. In fact, Shyamalan uses the scares more for laughter and it works. Unlike The Happening where you’re laughing at Shyamalan, The Visit’s scares are there to make you laugh from great comic timing. It’s a lot like The Evil Dead or Dead Alive; you aren’t frightened by the scares but they’re so uncomfortable and insane that you laugh. It seems like Shyamalan is in on the joke this time and wants you to enjoy yourself and it works. It’s self-parody that works and that’s a major plus.
The Visit is a great return to form for Shyamalan. I’ve made fun of the man just as much as everyone else has but he is a very good director and when he tries, a very good storyteller. My fear is that audiences won’t go out to see this because of Shyamalan’s past mistakes. Unfortunately, atrocities like The Happening may keep audiences away from a very good movie. So please, heed these words: Go see The Visit. It’s a very good movie that will satisfy you at the end (and could even hit some right in the feels). No, it’s not terribly scary and does play on a couple found footage clichés here and then but it will make you laugh in ways you wouldn’t expect going in. It doesn’t hit the same highs as Signs or The Sixth Sense but it could quite possibly be a revitalization for Shyamalan’s career. I am excited for that.