I hold the seemingly common opinion of not having fully enjoyed any of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies since Signs about 13 years ago. The Village had its positives and The Happening is certainly hilarious, but after a string of movies where each one seemed determined to sink lower than the previous, I think most people, myself included, figured the director’s days were numbered. Who would trust him with a big budget at this point?
It turns out perhaps nobody because here we have The Visit, a low budget horror comedy that was reportedly made for only five million dollars. But what do you know it has made a good pile of cash and it has received generally positive reviews! Could Shyamalan still have it in him to make a good movie? This is too much build-up. Yes. He does. It’s The Visit. The Visit is a good movie.
This is a very simple story that I think is exactly what Shyamalan needed to do at this point. Brother and sister Tyler and Becca (I think they are 11-13ish) are taken to their grandparent’s home to stay for a week. They have never met them before and their mom doesn’t talk much about them, having left home at a young age for undisclosed reasons. As the week unfolds, grandma and grandpa exhibit stranger and stranger behaviour. While at first it’s easy enough to explain away their actions with “well, they’re old”, eventually it gets to be too much and people are climbing into ovens and being chased around under a house and all sorts of odd shit you don’t want any part of.
The Visit does start out worrisome when we are introduced to our two young leads, Tyler and Becca. Becca is the one filming (oh this is indeed a found footage movie) the documentary and is immediately set-up as a pretentious film snob. Tyler is a wannabe thug rapper. I was immediately concerned that the following 90 minutes spent with these two would be excruciating, but actually those character traits steer far from grating and end up creating some of the best moments of the movie. Becca’s overly artistic approach to her documentary is meant to be ridiculous (such as telling her brother to stand solemnly by a swing but to let it swing naturally instead of pushing it) and Tyler’s rap persona is largely restricted to some admittedly solid freestyle sequences. Plus I respect that the two siblings actually get along. It’s too easy to fall back on needless bickering so I enjoyed that they just straight up are friendly to one another.
I will say that if you’re venturing out to The Visit in search of horror, you may come away disappointed. Although the trailers hint that there are laughs to be found (“would you mind getting into the oven to clean it?”), they don’t accurately depict just how much of a comedy this really is. Thankfully, unlike many of Shyamalan’s recent output, you are laughing with the movie and not directly at it. There are jolts to be had, but they are sporadic and the movie often suffers a bit from Paranormal Activity syndrome. This is when you know you are largely safe from scares during the day, so when night falls you start to get that feeling of “oooo here’s where shit gets real!” Then, just like in Paranormal Activity, shit only kind of gets real. It gets real for a minute or so and then it’s daytime again. The crucial difference between this and Paranormal Activity is that the stuff happening here during the day is often entertaining and doesn’t make you want to slap the movie and tell it to do something! That’s not to say there is no horror at all as the last act proves to be a tense endeavor, while still providing some of the best laughs of the film.
The performances are very strong, particularly by Becca and Tyler (I know their fictional names but am now too lazy to look up the names of the actors) who are both natural and don’t fall into the precocious child trap. They are able to sell both the humour and the horror. The grandparents are also strong, finding a good balance between fun kooky and threateningly kooky. Since this is largely a four character show, it’s nice not to have a weak link in the bunch.
The Visit is a strong return for Shyamalan. It’s not going to hit people anywhere near the same way his earlier efforts did (Unbreakable will always be his high point for me), but it tells a simple story effectively and reminded me of what I liked about his work in the first place. Fun, funny, with the occasional scare, this is one movie you’ll want to VISIT your theatre for. BAM! Poster quoted!