Movie Review: “The Visit”

Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Kathryn Hahn, Peter McRobbie
M. Night Shyamalan

It has been a rough decade for M. Night Shyamalan. The once promising filmmaker behind the chilling smash hit, “The Sixth Sense,” and its beautifully somber and superior follow-up, “Unbreakable,” hasn’t connected with audiences for a long time now. “The Last Airbender,” “After Earth” and “Lady in the Water” failed to connect with critics, audiences and plenty of the director’s own vocal supporters. This year, though, marks the return of a new and improved Shyamalan, who has delivered an unpretentious, darkly funny horror movie with “The Visit.”

Spending a week with grandma and grandpa – what could possibly go wrong? But in this story, it turns out that the answer is “everything.” Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Style (Ed Oxenbould) don’t know what to expect when they arrive at the home of their grandparents, Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan). The kids’ mother (Kathryn Hahn) hasn’t talked to her parents in years because of a heated disagreement they once had, and this is their chance to finally get to know their grandparents, which aspiring filmmaker Becca is documenting with her camera. Soon after their visit starts, however, the two kids realize that something is very, very wrong with grandma and grandpa.

“The Visit” is a refreshing found footage movie. Technically, the label doesn’t apply, since it’s not exactly “found footage,” but nonetheless, it plays with the form in some creative ways. Most found footage movies are bafflingly polished, with seamless cuts and the camera often in the right place at the right time. In this case, the camerawork makes sense. When a character holds a camera in a tense sequence, it makes sense: Becca is a filmmaker who wants to capture everything about this vacation. There’s only one scene that screams, “Drop the camera already!”

Shyamalan and his DP Maryse Alberti’s camerawork and stylistic choices are both realistic and cinematic – a successful balance rarely seen in this subgenre. Shyamalan builds tension and scares with silence, extended shots and laughs. There are a few comical jump scares – which are played more as jokes – but “The Visit” relies more on tension than gore or loud noises. The film is both a modern and old school horror pic. For the first time in a while, it feels like Shyamalan is just having fun.

Sometimes the writer/director’s work is hindered by the need to be more than a thriller or horror movie, like they have to be “important” in some way. (“The Village” simply can’t be a monster film; it has to lament the “people” as the monsters with an obvious twist.) “The Visit” isn’t that kind of film. There’s a dramatic arc to the movie, but it doesn’t serve a statement. This is back-to-basics stuff for Shyamalan, showing the director at his most relaxed and confident in years.

Although the ending suffers because of the main arc in the film (it could have ended with a real bang if cut sooner), this is still an incredibly self-aware horror movie. Shyamalan’s ambitions aren’t quite as lofty this time around, and at the end of the day, that works in his favor. Between “Wayward Pines” and “The Visit,” we’re seeing a modest, welcome comeback for Shyamalan, and with any luck, he’ll continue to deliver more work akin to his latest film.


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