The Visit

The Visit is not the best in Shyamalan’s resume but it could well be the end of his losing streak

Following a spate of hits and misses, with mostly misses over the last decade, director M. Night Shyamalan seems to have broken free from the disastrous spell he was under. Although his latest offering – The Visit – doesn’t reinvent the horror genre, it is still a well-executed film with a Shyamalan first – effectively creepy when it has to be, yet outrageously hilarious when you least expect it.

The concept, however, isn’t new and at first glance the found footage theme might throw some viewers off. Having personally hated The Blair Witch Project (the mother of all found footage horror films), I wasn’t too thrilled going in for this but as it turns out, The Visit is best viewed as a mockumentary. This is the first notable aspect of the film, and owing to its satirical nature, draws you in with wacky humor from kids playing the lead. Visiting their grandparents for the first time, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) make a documentary getting to know them. Their grandparents, who they call Nana and Pop-pop, are regular old folks, but only during the day. After sundown things get pretty bizarre and downright creepy until Shyamalan’s signature ‘twist ending’ reveals all. It’s not the most original reveal and the resultant tonal shift is a bit of a letdown. But up to this point, the narrative is well balanced between wit, mystery, and a foreboding atmosphere that something is not quite right.

Despite setbacks with his previous films, Shyamalan proves that he’s still a visionary filmmaker with this respectable attempt at making a comeback. Pacing is deliberate with the narrative making good use of its 94 minute run time and doesn’t feel stretched. Each day with the grandparents are title cards marked by a day of the week. While this looks like amateur film making for a kid, the technique has an ulterior motive, and this becomes apparent when we know how many days the kids have with their grandparents. Similarly, there are other bits and pieces of his genius at work, most notably, his incisive way of working with child actors. Playing the younger brother Tyler, Oxenbould is an instant crowd pleaser while almost single-handedly delivering most of the humor. At times this also works as a smoke-screen between spring-loaded suspense and a few jump scares in the beginning. Although this might seem borrowed from the Paranormal Activity films, deft camera work more than makes up for some of the cheap scares. And while there are few scenes that tread dangerously close to bad taste, WTF moments juxtaposed between suspense driven tension and witty commentary keeps the story grounded.

For an independent film on a shoestring budget, The Visit doesn’t boast any fancy visual effects either. But you do get a good story that is deceptively simple and almost expertly told, in addition to good delivery from the actors, skin crawling sound design and crafty camerawork. For Shyamalan, this is a welcome return to form and hopefully, the end of his losing streak.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.