You have to feel for M. Night Shyamalan – his early films were so well regarded that it seems almost inevitable that he faced a decline, and one from which he has really failed to come back. If you’re hoping that The Visit will be an example of good Shyamalan, you’re going to be disappointed – although he returns to his low budget horror fare, using restraint rather than excess, but there’s nothing really to the film.
Aspiring film-maker Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) say goodbye to their mother (Kathryn Hahn) as they board a train and head deep into Pennsylvania farm country to meet their maternal grandparents for the first time. Welcomed by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), all seems well until the siblings start to notice increasingly strange behaviour from the seemingly charming couple – Nana seems to be really unwell, and it appears that Pop Pop’s mental health is starting to go. However, the game changes once the children discover a shocking secret, they begin to wonder if they’ll ever make it home.
As The Visit is an M. Night Shyamalan film, it almost goes without saying that there is a twist in the tale of some description – sadly, I came to the film knowing what it was. Although that takes away some of the enjoyment of getting to experience it for the first time (although, watching the film, it stuck me that I probably would have got it straight away anyway), it highlighted a bit of a bigger issue for me – even with its twist premise, the film is a very paper-thin offering.
We are treated here to yet another found-footage horror – the set-up this time is that Becca wants to make a documentary about her grandparents, hence why all parts of the movie are filmed. However, it uses some insulting poor scripting to refuse to capitalise on this set-up – Becca will not record her grandparents at night to see what’s going on because of the ethics of documentary making, or some pretentious crap like that. She wanders through the film, spouting pretentious garbage like looking for ‘visual identities’ for her film throughout, and she’s so annoying that you want to smack her.
It gets even worse with her brother – the film takes every moment it can to remind us he is a Youtube rapper, and it offers us a lot of rapping as comic relief (I say that, but I found it the most horrific part of the film). He does at least four raps I can recall, and they stop being entertaining a few words into the first one. These horrible identities are all the more frustrating because when the movie gives the kids dramatic stuff to do, they do it really well – they wouldn’t nearly have been so insufferable if they were just normal children.
The adults fare better, but not by much. Hahn injects a bit of comedy, but she is mainly doing the conga on Skype – the film really belongs to Dunagan and McRobbie as the grandparents. The two fully embrace the surreal behaviour of the duo, but play it with nice control that helps amp up the creepiness. It’s a shame they weren’t given a bit more to work with, and particularly that they part of a film that insults the elderly quite so. The explanation for every little thing is ‘they’re old people, and old people go a little bit crazy,’ and then it really takes the mickey – adult nappies are presented as a terrible threat, and a form of dementia is used for a jump scare or two.
People were hailing The Visit as Shyamalan’s return to form, but I think that is over-selling it a bit. It is competently made and directed, but it offers little and fails to really deliver that. There are good moments, and the two established actors turn in good performances, but it can’t save the film from being any more than mediocre.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Olivia DeJonge (Becca), Ed Oxenbould (Tyler), Deanna Dunagan (Nana), Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop), Kathryn Hahn (Mom), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Stacey)
Running Time: 94 Mins