While it may not necessarily be a true return to form for the storyteller who brought us such films as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, there was still a lot that I enjoyed about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit. His latest thriller explores the terrors of visiting relatives—especially the elderly—and has an unexpectedly dark comedic twist to it.
The Visit follows youngsters Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) as they set out for a visit with their grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). What makes the trip so remarkable for the family is that it is the first time the kids are meeting their grandparents, as their mom (Kathryn Hahn) left home when she was a teenager and hasn’t been in contact with her family ever since. Wanting to capture this monumental occasion forever, Rebecca sets out to create her own documentary about the experience. Everything seems fine until the tykes learn that their grandmother suffers from "sundowning" and their grandpa warns them to not leave their rooms after a certain time. Curiosities piqued, Rebecca and Tyler decide to do some investigating anyway, but what they discover leads to some disturbing truths that neither child was ever prepared to face during what was supposed to be an idyllic trip.
It’s no real secret that Shyamalan’s career has been in need of some mending after a few poorly received efforts over the last several years seemed to derail things for the one-time superstar director. Even though I haven’t loved everything he’s done, I have always admired what he brought to the table in terms of using innovative storytelling and compelling characters—especially in the aforementioned trio of films. The Visit is somewhat of a moderate success for Shyamalan, as while his methodology of storytelling here wasn’t something I felt was necessary (shooting everything documentary style), I did dig his story, the characters and just how downright nasty The Visit gets during the last 15 minutes or so.
The film has a lot of comedy to it, too—some of it subversive, some of it very straight-on—but as a whole, the amusing bits to Shyamalan’s script serve the material well and balance out nicely with the horror elements at play. The Visit is definitely what I would call a "slow burn", as it takes a bit of time to really get going, but the actors are all on point from start to finish, especially Dunagan and McRobbie, who both play their parts with a bit of a menacing wink to them.
While I wouldn’t call it a flawless effort by any means, I had a lot of fun with The Visit and think the film is a pretty solid return to form for Shyamalan. I wasn’t a huge fan of presenting everything as a documentary because I feel like shooting it traditionally may have made some of the scares a bit more successful. As a whole, though, it didn’t really detract much from my enjoyment. The story does take a bit of time to get going, but once the characters are thrown into utter turmoil, The Visit builds in tension, giving it a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark vibe that I very much appreciated.
Movie Rating: 3/5