Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn
Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is a bit egotistical. The filmmaker who shot to success in 1999 with his beautifully haunting thriller “The Sixth Sense”, earning him an Oscar nomination has been trying to “regain control” ever since. For over a decade he has forced audience to sit though films like “Unbreakable”, “Signs” and “The Happening”, hoping to recapture the same thrill and awe. He became relegated to a one hit wonder, even taking projects outside his horror preference, “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth”, those failed too. Shyamalan returns with “The Visit”, the lowest budget film in his repertoire and finds an organic place in which to begin again. A relatively unknown cast, this new thriller leans heavily on comedy as much as it does thrills, displaying the directors wicked sense of humor.
Becca (DeJonge) and Tyler (Oxenbould) are visiting their grandparents for the first time in hopes of reuniting their mother with her estranged parents. Video camera in tow, Becca intends to do document the entire experience. Having never spent time away from their mom, she Skype’s in from time to time on a cruise with her new boyfriend. Becca & Tyler are greeted by Nana (Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (McRobbie) at the train station and then it’s off to their county home, nestled in the woods, where the kids will endure no cell phone service. They begin to notice strange behaviors from their grandparents, especially after 9:30pm. Nana makes excuses for Pop-Pop and he for her, when the kids ask about behaviors and sounds they hear and see. Yet the couple is dead silent with any mention of their daughter.
The most welcome surprise to Shyamalan’s latest is the comedy, in fact it’s down- right hysterical.
The most welcome surprise to Shyamalan’s latest is the comedy, in fact it’s down- right hysterical. Most of the laughter comes from Oxenbould’s antics, the young actor (“Paper Planes”, “Alexander the Terrible”) really steals the show with made up rap songs and camera hogging. The mixture of comedy and terror is unusually well balanced. Lighter moments in a drama or horror usually exist to relieve tension, yet here we laugh and then go right back to nervously trying to figure out what is going on. Dunagan and McRobbie, both in their 70’s certainly reinforce young kids apprehension with the elderly as vomit, dirty diapers and nudity are all elements used to make these grandparents as repellent as possible.
Ultimately it’s the unpredictability of “The Visit” that keeps the audience engaged. Shyamalan keeps the audience so present in the thriller that we lose track of the mystery or the burning questions. More than anyone else, he knows how to work backwards, not that anyone will need to see this film more than once, however you could work this script back to front and it will make sense. He chooses what to show and what to talk about very carefully, by the end you can see where he got you, but also how clever he was in concealing the big reveal. More intelligent viewers might feel let down by the ending, especially if they are already expecting a big surprise. While the comedy and the horror work well together, the script does take a sappy turn in a couple places which rings completely false measured against everything else we see. “The Visit” could certainly have worked without the overused “found footage” gimmick, a trend I hope dies quickly, but I realize the cost benefit for filmmakers.
Shyamalan no longer a one hit wonder as he rediscovers organic filmmaking.