UK Release Date: 11th September 2015
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Writer: M Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn, Patch Darragh
Synopsis: Two precocious children visit their estranged grandparents for the first time and discover that there’s something very weird indeed about their unusual, elderly relatives.
Few filmmakers are as divisive as M Night Shyamalan. Since he hit gold with The Sixth Sense back in the 90s, his reliance on plot twists and bizarre creative decisions has left him with a dubious reputation as a hack who got lucky. His last film – dismal Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth – didn’t exactly help stem the tide of ridicule and vitriol. However, Shyamalan has made his return to low-budget horror cinema with The Visit, which is an efficiently creepy tale.
Siblings Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), in a move designed to give their totally exhausted mother (Kathryn Hahn) a break, are sent to spend a week with their grandparents, whom they have never previously met. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) initially seem to be perfectly normal, genial old folk. However, when the kids flout their 9:30pm bedtime, they discover that there’s something odd going on in the house.
The joy of The Visit is in how well Shyamalan manages its deeply unusual tone, which is positioned somewhere between the standard found footage horror format and black comedy. There’s a refreshing sense of fun to the film and it takes great pleasure in subverting the usual expectations for such a genre picture. The script walks the awkwardly wavy line between comedy and horror to great effect, with Deanna Dunagan in particular given a difficult balancing act to work with.
| "There’s something wrong with Nana and Pop Pop."
In the early stages, The Visit creaks under the weight of the dozens of crappy found footage horror films that have been released in the last few years. The gimmick is tired and old hat, which is why it’s all the more remarkable that The Visit still manages to find plenty of scares. Deanna Dunagan’s late night wanderings are genuinely creepy and, aside from a few obvious jump scares, they largely help to build tension rather than diminish it with cheap jolts.
It helps that the central young duo are entertaining. DeJonge does a solid job as the film-obsessed know-it-all, whilst Oxenbould gets plenty of mileage out of his role as a live-action Bart Simpson. The scenes in which he showcases his naively misogynistic freestyle raps are horrendously awkward, but funny as a result of the star’s sheer commitment.
As with so many of Shyamalan’s films, The Visit turns on a sixpence in its final third with a plot twist that unlocks the narrative. Here, the twist is delivered in delightfully unexpected fashion – even if the turn itself isn’t entirely unpredictable – and sets into motion a third act that goes full-tilt barmy and is incredibly entertaining as a result. Put it this way: Yahtzee was a perfect game, friendly for all of the family, right up until it was used in The Visit.
| "Would you mind getting inside the oven to clean it?"
The success of The Visit comes down to the fact that it is Shyamalan working within the kind of limitations that funnel his creativity into the right things. The direction is exuberant, the fairytale nods are playful and the scares are pretty solid. If it weren’t for the found footage crutch, this could’ve been one of the best horror films of the year.
Pop or Poop?
M Night Shyamalan returns to some sort of form with The Visit, which is a film that brings fun, dark wit and a degree of much-needed originality to the tired found footage subgenre.
The performances are solid, particularly from the terrifying Deanna Dunagan, and the scares come thick and fast along with the comedy. It’s deeply flawed, but considering the variable quality of the director’s oeuvre, there is plenty to enjoy.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.