The Visit

The VisitSynopsis: Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable) and producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, The Purge and Insidious series) welcome you to Universal Pictures’ The Visit. Shyamalan returns to his roots with the terrifying story of a brother and sister who are sent to their grandparents’ remote Pennsylvania farm for a weeklong trip. Once the children discover that the elderly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing, they see their chances of getting back home are growing smaller every day.

Shyamalan produces The Visit through his Blinding Edge Pictures, while Blum produces through his Blumhouse Productions alongside Marc Bienstock (Quarantine 2: Terminal). Steven Schneider (Insidious) and Ashwin Rajan (Devil) executive produce the thriller.

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The Visit 7.75

eyelights: the concept. the twist. its creep factor. the girl. the grandma.
eyesores: its use of ageist stereotypes. the boy’s rapping and posturing.

“Mom, there’s something wrong with nana and papa.”

‘The Visit’ is a psychological horror film by M. Night Shyamalan. Released in 2015, it was hailed in some quarters as a return to form for the auteur, who had been critically reviled for nearly a decade.

It tells the story of two teenagers who have never met their maternal grandparents and go out to spend a week with them in their country home. But their bonding experience isn’t at all what they hoped for.

Some people say that it’s M. Night Shyamalan’s “lost footage” film – likely because the girl is making a documentary about this reunion, and all of that footage is made to look like low-def home video.

Well, ignore what people are saying: clearly they didn’t see the movie before commenting on it, because this is nothing like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ or ‘Cloverfield’. The home video is just one aspect of the film.

In fact, I got the impression that this wasn’t Shyamalan’s ‘Blair Witch’/found footage picture, but rather his B movie: the basic concept is the stuff of countless Z-grade pictures that have gone straight to video.

Except that he did it with a decent budget and a modicum of talent – and that includes the cast, which is rather good. ‘The Visit’ is likely what those types of crap movies probably wish they had been.

And aren’t.

In any case, what you need to know is that ‘The Visit’ mixes suspense and humour equally.

This is not pure horror.

Frankly, I didn’t know much about ‘The Visit’ when I went to see it, and neither should you: the twist is so crucial to the picture’s impact, that knowing it ahead of time would very much neuter the experience.

So stop reading about it now (even from other sources!) and give it a chance.

Then come back to read the rest of this blurb.

See you soon.

Hopefully.

***

Welcome back.

As I was about to say, I enjoyed ‘The Visit’.

However, I would have liked it even more if I wasn’t stuck in a cinema full of young teenaged girls talking throughout; they made it impossible to focus and it ruined the mood. !@#$

The picture’s twisted twist can never be revealed to me again, and I can only imagine how tense I would have been at that point if I had been fully in its grasp. Alas, I was only half-immersed in the experience.

Still, ‘The Visit’ was filled with eerie and creepy moments and it was nearly impossible not to be chilled by them in one fashion or another – even through the grating giggling of distracted schoolgirls.

I liked how Shyamalan slowly made the grandparents’ behaviour slightly “off”, whilst leaving the teenagers stranded in the middle of nowhere with limited contact with the outside world.

It was disquieting.

And when the grandmother began to act strangely, so strangely that you would normally have wanted to laugh if not for the dire position the kids were in, it was positively disturbing:

  • She projectile-vomits openly about the house late at night (why wasn’t she in the bathroom?)
  • She chases them creepily under the porch, like something out of ‘Ringu‘. As a joke.
  • She hits herself or has spazz attacks when she is confronted with emotionally difficult memories.
  • She asks the girl to go clean the oven… all the way in, at the back. Brrr…
  • She laughs to herself while sitting facing the wall, to keep away the “deep darkies”.
  • She wanders and scurries (spiderlike) about the house late at night.
  • She claws the walls in the middle of the night.

Ditto for the grandfather who, at first, seemed to have his bearings about him a bit more. But he eventually began to act peculiarly in instances that left some doubt about his mental state too:

  • He thinks that strangers are watching him and attacks them for no reason.
  • He skulks about the outdoor shed.
  • He is sometimes unresponsive when he’s addressed.
  • He gets confused about where he’s supposed to be.

At first, it’s clear that the kids were finding ways to ignore their grandparents’ eccentricities because their need to get to know them, to have them in their lives, was stronger than their distrust.

But, past a certain point, I would have gotten out of there and walked home, if needed – at the very least after the grandmother was wandering about with a knife. And without a doubt by the week’s end.

So I really didn’t understand why they’d stay put.

I also didn’t get why the girl didn’t approach her grandma to ask her if she was okay when she saw her vomit everywhere – she just ran back to her room. Seems to me that you’d want to show some concern.

She also didn’t ask her grandfather about it the next day, nor did she act differently around her grandmother. It was as though it had never happened; it was a brand new day, a blank slate.

Would people actually behave this way, or had Shyamalan contrived this because there was no other way to move the picture along? I know I wouldn’t act like this, but perhaps others would…?

Still, it left me slightly incredulous – the last thing you want to feel during a creepy suspense film, because it prevents you from fully immersing yourself. Instead, I was busy trying to make sense of it.

One thing I liked was that Shyamalan played on all sorts of traditional fears, which were mostly red herrings – the real scares came from elsewhere. I liked this, although I also thought it might be laziness.

Was he being clever, or was he out of ideas? I guess it depends on which side of the fence you are about him; many critics would simply claim that he is creatively bankrupt, and has been for a while now.

Personally, I think that, even from the onset, he’s always used simple ideas and confounded them (ex: putting the answers right in our faces, but distracting you from it). I think that’s kind of clever.

Shyamalan also has a knack for casting (with some exceptions), especially with respect to young actors:

  • Olivia DeJonge is really quite good as the eldest of the siblings, and has a few excellent moments. In my estimation, she’s a standout in the picture, and I very much look forward to seeing what lies ahead for her, how her career will develop.
  • Ed Oxenbould is believable as the brother, but Shyamalan had him posture as a wannabe rapper and I didn’t buy that aspect one bit. Of course, I don’t buy into that type of posturing at the best of times, so I wouldn’t dare to blame Oxenbould for this one.
  • Deanna Dunagan was so bat$#!t insane as the grandmother that it went into camp territory – especially in a cinema full of giggling teenaged girls. But in a proper setting, it would likely have been quite disturbing to see someone’s caregiver fall apart like this. Either way, it’s quite a performance.
  • Peter McRobbie plays it quite straight as the grandfather. He’s entirely believable shifting through various moods, most of which leaves us unsure of what lies beneath the surface. He’s a good counterpoint to Dunagan, in that his madness is far more subtle, insidious.

I wasn’t so keen on Kathryn Hahn as the mom, however, and I’m not sure if it’s her performance of the character that annoyed me; she seemed tacky and a bit bubble-brained, attributes that immediately trigger my contempt.

Anyway, she’s rarely in the film, so it’s no big deal.

In the end, ‘The Visit’ creeps up on you in just the way you want a horror film to: slowly, so that it gets its claws into your mind. The best horror is built not on cheap scares and visceral sequences, it’s built on fear.

Real fear.

And there’s nothing worse than being trapped somewhere with people who should be your guardians, only to find out that they are anything but. The instability and sense of vulnerability this causes is beyond words.

‘The Visit’ could have been better, certainly, but it’s a pretty good spookshow. Given how low Shyamalan’s fortunes have been of late, one can only hope that it really is an indication of a return to form.

Because when he’s on, few of his peers can outdo him.

Story: 7.5
Acting: 7.0
Production: 7.5

Chills: 8.0
Gore: 2.0
Violence: 3.0

Date of viewing: September 26, 2015

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