"The Visit" Review
M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs) delivers something of a return to form with The Visit. It's about two young kids named Becca and Tyler (Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould) who stay with grandparents they've never met (Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie) while Mom (Kathryn Hahn) takes a cruise with her boyfriend.
Yeah. Nice one, Mom.
The kids, who are making a documentary of their weeklong visit, discover curious things about "Nana" and "Pop Pop" that make for both strong scares and voracious laughs. One of the better gags is an ongoing joke about Tyler going blind from an odd confrontation with Nana. That confrontation is actually one of the film's freakier moments, so it's fascinating to see how several of the jokes are beget by truly frightening situations.
While I'm alluding to Shyamalan's script, Becca and Tyler are two refreshingly well-written, well-acted characters after a summer full of less-than-stellar child performances.
Looking at you, Jurassic World and Vacation.
Becca is the one driving the idea of shooting the experience as a documentary, and in the process she teaches the audience a few things about cinema as a medium. There are several moments where she tries to stage long shots of her brother looking pensively at an old swing blowing in the breeze or making emotionally effective use of zoom and camera staging while she interviews her subjects. Occasionally the camera is set at a canted angle to skew the audience's perspective, adding to the tension of a given scene. It still has the shaky cam trappings of "found footage," but all the movements feel earned. This could very well be the best directed, most well-shot "found footage" movie ever made.
It's reassuring to see that even a storyteller as far in a professional rut as Shyamalan can come back with a $5 million budget and deliver a thrilling mainstream picture that is as much about "film as art" as it is about scary old people. (Which, in and of itself, is an exploration of deeper seeded fears towards aging.)
Of course it all culminates in a trademark "Shyamalan twist" that will probably split viewers. I didn't see it coming myself, but I've seen other reviewers who called it well ahead of time. I was expecting Paranormal Activity but got something closer to The People Under the Stairs.
That's not the worst thing in the world.
Though it won't win any awards, The Visit delivers just enough nastiness and laughter to satisfy genre fans.
- Shyamalan goes back to basics
- Found footage cliches feel earned
- Strong cast
- Well-written child characters
- Chilling horror lends itself to intentional comedy
- Boneheaded premise (What mother sends her kids to stay with people they don't know?)
- Monotonous middle section (Weird grandparents are weird with only one real scenery change)
Written by Ben C. of The Reel