It isn’t unknown that M. Night Shyamalan’s last few movies have been critically slaughtered by critics and fans alike. The director, who gave us The Sixth Sense and Signs, has fallen off his creative saddle (I won’t go into lengths about how After Earth was the epitome of a disastrous movie). Thankfully, Shyamalan seems to be coming back to semi-form with his latest film, The Visit.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have never met their grandparents because their mom (Kathryn Hahn) hasn’t spoken to them in 15 years. Having run away with her older substitute teacher at 19, tensions between she and her parents rose and never quite deflated. But they want to meet their grandkids. So Hahn, whose character is only known as “Mom,” sends them to Masonville, PA, a largely farm county and just the right place for a creepy setting and bizarre unexplained incidents. So Becca and Tyler meet their grandparents for the first time–whom they lovingly start calling Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). The rules are simple: do whatever you want, but don’t leave your bedroom after 9:30 p.m. Because, of course, that’s when all the creepy and strange events start happening.
The film has a surprising emotional core that isn’t just tacked on, but follows the film through from beginning to end. The Visit is shot like a found footage documentary, as the kids are budding filmmakers and want to film everything–and also somehow find forgiveness for their mother for what happened all that time ago through the filming of their stay at the house. The dialogue isn’t always fantastic, the kids are only briefly frustrating, and the plot isn’t a revelation, but Shyamalan manages to balance some decent character relationships with the ever-growing suspicion and horror factor of the film.
Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are wonderful in their roles as the grandparents. Some of the strange events that happen in the film are blamed on the fact that they’re older and that’s just what happens when you get old; Dunagan and McRobbie play sad old couple and psychotically unhinged grandparents very fluidly. You feel bad for them one second and wary of them right after. The film follows a linear structure, going day-by-day, the weirdness and mystery unfolding as the week-long stay progresses. Hints are dropped here and there, of course, but at the same time a hundred possibilities will run through your mind. Are they possessed? Have they just gone insane? Have they been taken over by strange creatures. Shyamalan doesn’t focus too much on the whys, even though he reveals it later, but the focus is on the journey and the scare factor instead.
A definite upgrade from his last film, Shyamalan keeps the film from dragging too much, maintaining a modest 90 or so minutes. The opening sequence with Kathryn Hahn explaining the backstory of her past as her daughter interviews her sets the stage for what’s to come and does so without making the emotional aspect of what the characters are going through feel unbearably contrived. The Visit is solidly entertaining without overdoing anything. At least it’s not a negative mark on Shyamalan’s record, which is in and of itself a reason to be happy.
Release Date: September 11, 2015 | Director and Screenwriter: M. Night Shyamalan | Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn | Genre: Horror | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror violence, and some nudity, and for brief language