Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, and Kathryn Hahn
“The Visit” is a modern day spin of a grim fairy tale; you might call it “Hansel and Gretel” the documentary. Director M. Night Shyamalan returns with another frightening tale where children are placed in the center of complicated, sometimes perilous, situations; a theme utilized most prominently in his films “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs”. It’s a common story in horror films, a topic that can heighten the moments of tension and terror if used properly. Shyamalan, a director whose films have been a mix of accomplishment and disappointment, crafts an effective horror film with “The Visit”, a scaled down success of simple and strategic storytelling heavy on the “creepy” factor.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are siblings who are preparing to meet their estranged grandparents for the first time. Becca is an inquisitive and budding filmmaker, hoping to make this first-time meeting into a documentary. Tyler does what younger brothers do best…annoy their older sisters, though Tyler will occasionally break out into a rapping freestyle to add insult to injury. Becca and Tyler’s Mom (Kathryn Hahn) is a single parent who left her family as a teenager under secretive circumstances. The kids arrive in a cozy small town, greeted by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) at the train station. The two eager grandparents are loving and caring, if a little absent minded. However, once the sun goes down everything changes.
Shyamalan has always been good at building his characters; with “The Visit” he takes a natural approach to establishing the relationship between the siblings and the connection with their lone parent. The journey for these children to meet their grandparents is partly a way for them to understand their mother, who comes off a bit disheartened by her life thus far, and to come to terms with the emotional distress caused by the abandonment of their father, a decision that has left damaging emotional impressions on the children. Shyamalan touches on these aspects with very minimal direct referencing, an attribute to the tightly composed narrative and the abilities of the young actors playing these roles. This early development creates an essential investment with the characters, one that Shyamalan manipulates as soon as the strange and unusual begins to happen at Nana and Pop Pop’s house. While not necessarily scary, though the annoyingly forced jump scares try to evoke this feeling, it’s the unusual behavior of the grandparents that becomes unnerving. Nana chasing the kids in a creepy crawling position while whispering “I’m gonna get ya” is one memorable instance.
The film builds to a great climax before the inevitable reveal of the mystery arrives, a defining quality that has followed Shyamalan throughout his career. It’s neither disappointing nor satisfying here, which is a good thing because the ending simply works to accommodate the structure of the story that has been told.
“The Visit” plays like a campfire tale while finding inspiration from a bunch of different horror films. Ploys like an old, dark house, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing monsters, and the hand-held horror techniques are some of the genre characteristics that are utilized by Shyamalan. While some of time this works other times it falls into familiar trappings, still “The Visit” is effectively strange enough to keep one watching until the end.
3.25 out of 5.00