The much-maligned filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan, is back in fine form with his new low-budget comedy-horror film, The Visit, a hair-raising and hilarious take on many a child’s summer stint with their gray haired grandparents.
If you are familiar with Shyamalan’s incredible early work, like The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village, then you have a sense of how awesome The Visit experience is going to be for you; and you also know my predicament in letting too much out of the bag and spoiling the fun – so I’m going to try hard not to do that.
If you came to Shyamalan through films like The Last Airbender, The Happening and the amazingly bad After Earth, just forget those movies ever happened. With The Visit, the one-time wunderkind, writer/director and heir apparent to Alfred Hitchcock has delivered one of the most entertaining (and creepy) horror films I’ve seen in a long time.
Fifteen years ago, Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) Jamison’s Mom (Kathryn Hahn) had a falling out with her parents and hasn’t seen or spoken to them since; but her Mom and Dad have reached out and want to have a relationship with their grandchildren, so the two young teens set out on a weeklong visit to their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop’s (Peter McRobbie) farm in the country.
Young Becca is an amateur filmmaker, but as written by Shyamalan she is extremely knowledgeable and well versed in the art form. She and Tyler bring high-definition cameras along on their trip with the goal of documenting the occasion for their Mom and helping her to mend the strained relationship with her parents.
The found-footage gimmick has been driven into the ground since the method first became popular back in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project (coincidentally the same year Shyamalan had his first hit, with The Sixth Sense), but The Visit does a good job of setting up a realistic scenario in which these kids might actually be carrying a camera and documenting their every move. Not every scene is organic (to borrow Becca’s filmmaking parlance), but most of it rings true – especially in the context of the entire film.
Right way the grandparents begin revealing their eccentricities, which start off cute, get a little weird, and then transition into downright scary; but through it all the movie never strays far from a fun and darkly humorous tone. I spent as much time laughing as I did sitting on the edge of my seat, sometimes doing both simultaneously.
The acting in this film is first rate and the kids especially pull off their smarter-than-the-average-adult roles without coming across fake or becoming annoying – quite a feat for both the actors and the writer/director. Deanna Dunagan is also very good playing Nana as both sympathetic and scary as hell.
The film is all tied together perfectly with a very touching ending – something you don’t see in your typical horror film – and a very funny freestyle rap end-credit scene that will have you walking out of the theatre with a smile on your face.
The Visit is what Shyamalan is best at and it is so nice to see him back at his A-game. If you dig a fun horror film without excessive gore and unsettling torture, one that will have you giggling at yourself for being scared, then don’t miss this trip. Grade: 8/10
Photos © 2015 Universal Pictures