Once upon a time, M. Night Shyamalan was a fresh, brilliant talent in Hollywood—at least, he seemed brilliant after The Sixth Sense came out in 1999. His first few subsequent efforts were also solid, if not quite up to par with his big breakthrough. Around 2006, the honeymoon ended, as his films became increasingly ridiculous and all the accolades seemed to swell his ego.
He atones for his cinematic sins somewhat with The Visit, a nicely unnerving little horror flick in which he marries his big-twist-at-the-end plotting to the found-footage format. On the surface, the premise is simple: teenage sister (Olivia DeJonge) and brother (Ed Oxenbould) go to visit their mother’s (Kathryn Hahn) parents, whom they have never met, for a week and decide to film the trip.
Part of the fun of watching a Shyamalan flick—more so than with most other movies—is trying to guess what’s really happening, what he’s not telling or showing us. I tried that here and, once again, I never saw the big twist coming, never even glanced in that direction. And it’s a great twist. It doesn’t feel far-fetched, and once you know it, things become even more frightening.
I can’t say I was outright scared at any point, though, but Shyamalan nonetheless manages to maintain quite the creep factor. Why does grandpa (Peter McRobbie) go out to the woodshed alone? What’s up with grandma’s (Deanna Dunagan) downright crazy behavior at night? Shyamalan supplies reasonable explanations for everything, smartly keeping us off balance.
Dunagan herself proves quite creepy, all nice and grandma-like one minute, eerily off-kilter the next (check out her game of hide-and-seek with the kids underneath the house). You wonder if she’s poisoned the food. McRobbie, especially after revelations are made, also proves unsettling. The kids shrug off most of this for a while. After all, they reason, their grandparents are old.
While the found-footage aspect again helps the scares seem more visceral, it’s Shyamalan’s little narrative idiosyncrasies that help place the movie be more than a typical found-footage flick—Oxenbould’s fear of germs, for instance, or his creative raps. More than anything, he makes the siblings’ relationship feel more genuine than you’d expect. There’s heart amid all the screams. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 1/5/16