From the start of his career as a writer/director, M. Night Shyamalan has been known to throw unforeseeable twists into his movies. After his first three or four films, the quality of his work went down the drain. The twists were also flushed with them – that is, until now. However, the twist of ‘The Visit’ may not be what you’re expecting. The unpredictable turn of events here is that after more than a decade, Shyamalan has finally produced a genuinely entertaining movie again.
When I say that I recommend ‘The Visit’, my statement comes with a caveat. Shyamalan exploded onto the scene with ‘The Sixth Sense‘, a very accessible movie. Despite featuring bits of PG-13 horror throughout, no matter the moviegoing demographic, anyone and everyone saw it. Joking aside – well into their 70s at the time, my late grandparents saw ‘The Sixth Sense’. That’s how mainstream it was. On the other hand, while ‘The Visit’ is recommendable, it’s definitely not for every audience. It’s a straightforward horror flick that contains Shyamalan’s occasional humorous sensibilities. My grandparents would not have liked this movie at all.
Although technically a found-footage movie, Shyamalan was able to make ‘The Visit’ in that style without it feeling entirely like a shaky found-footage movie. We first meet Kathryn Hahn’s character, a single mother of two children whose father unexpectedly abandoned them and moved across the country for another woman. The older of her children, Becca (Olivia DeJonge), is an aspiring documentary filmmaker – hence why the footage isn’t shaky.
After a huge blowout with her parents, Becca’s mother left home at an early age and never looked back. Having never met their grandparents, Becca and her little brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) leave mom’s side to spend time at the rural Pennsylvania home in which their mother grew up. For the first time, they’re going to meet “Pop Pop” and “Nana.” Becca’s goal is to arm Tyler with a her spare camera and shoot the entire experience with the hope of quickly bonding with her grandparents, capturing sentimental footage of them talking about their estranged daughter and editing together a touching film that will help heal her mother’s long-term wounds.
Becca and Tyler’s arrival is perfect. Nana and Pop Pop are exactly the grandparents they’d hoped for. If things continue down this path, Becca will get the desired footage before long – but we all know that we’re not headed down that path. During their first day, Becca and Tyler notice Pop Pop doing odd things around the farm, but think nothing of it at first. It isn’t until the nighttime that Nana’s odd side comes out. Nightly, after 9:30 PM, the kids begin locking themselves in their room to stay safe from her creepy actions. As each day passes, Nana and Pop Pop get crazier and crazier, making this week-long trip harder and harder to endure – especially once their safety comes into question.
‘The Visit’ is quite a bit more intense than most PG-13 horror movies. It works hard to earn its scares, the majority of which play out very, very well. The actors who play Pop Pop and Nana (Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan) do just fine, but it’s actually the pair of Australian kid actors who make ‘The Visit’ work, which is surprising because DeJonge hasn’t appeared in anything big so far and Oxenbould was rather disappointing in ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day‘.
No matter whether rated PG-13 or R, I’ve always believed that horror works best with a “less is more” approach. Shyamalan applied that methodology to ‘The Visit’. Thanks to the performances of the young cast (especially their reactions), the unseen elements are the base of what makes this Shyamalan’s comeback worthwhile. Most PG-13 scary flicks are of the lowest-common-denominator variety, but ‘The Visit’ rises above thanks to the filmmaker’s style.