Poor M. Night Shyamalan. Once hailed as Hollywood hot property after a string of huge hits at the turn of the millennium including The Sixth Sense and Signs, his career took a downward trajectory with critically mauled films such as The Happening, Lady in the Water, After Earth and The Last Airbender. No one can call him a quitter though, because he’s back with the immensely entertaining The Visit.
When young siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) visit their grandparents in the isolated countryside, they bring along a few video cameras to document their trip. But in doing so, they capture disturbing behaviour from their elderly relatives which ultimately puts their lives in danger.
It’s a simple enough premise, and that’s a major strong point. The narrative is for the most part a straightforward affair, leaving Shyamalan to focus on the atmosphere and scares, something which The Visit thankfully contains a lot of. The grandparents are genuinely creepy characters, and M Night keeps us in the dark about what’s really going on for a good portion of the film which is a refreshing change. Granted, there’s a lot of tense moments which end in an anticlimax, and it’s hard not to feel like the scares should have got progressively more effective, but there’s a few surprises littered throughout. By keeping its plot relatively simple and focused though, it manages to be a largely successful found footage piece that uses its filming method to its full potential.
As for the characters, the young leads initially come across as irritating, especially Tyler. Over the course of the runtime though, they both evolve into an endearing duo who become hard not to root for, especially when the real insanity of the grandparents gets into full swing. Credit must be given to the senior actors who portray the kooky grandparents – they fully embrace their roles and give it their all, especially Kathryn Hahn as the grandma. Peter McRobbie as Pop pop does well to cover for her craziness to begin with his explanations, but it’s not long before he’s starring in his own scenes of madness.
The Visit is also surprisingly funny too, most likely due to just how preposterous some of the events that occur are. Tyler provides some comedic relief with his brilliantly awful freestyle raps and quick wit, but it’s the moments of sheer lunacy and a few unimaginably gross visuals which make this a winning combination of horror and comedy.
It’s not without its flaws, however. An unnecessarily drawn out subplot involving Becca and her self confidence feel woefully out of place and shoehorned in to develop the characters. The plot points brought up about three quarters of the way into the film about their estranged dad don’t quite fit into the horror/comedy mould set by the first two quarters, but it does make for a few surprisingly touching final scenes.
By keeping things focused, toning down the gimmicks and not relying too heavily on narrative curveballs, The Visit is Shyamalan’s most enjoyable work in years.