Comprised of about 60% commentary on filmmaking and the film industry, 20% story and 20% horror elements, and featuring a plot twist at the end that most won’t see coming, this new endeavour from Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan is the most reminiscent of the work that made him famous. Determined not to give up after a series of big-budget flops, Shyamalan has returned to lo-fi, indie horror, the genre he was always most fascinated by.
With a character-driven core story, and featuring strong performances from the children at the centre of the film, it’s easy to become invested in Becca (DeJonge) and Tyler’s (Oxenbould) fates. Smart and sensitive Becca is an amateur filmmaker who has decided to film a documentary about their trip to their mother’s parents, whom they’ve never met before. Her younger brother, Tyler, is an aspiring rapper (with the brilliant stage name T. Diamond Stylus) who deals with anxieties through elaborate OCD rituals. Both seem shaken by the departure of their father, who hasn’t spoken to them since the divorce. This trip doubles as a time for their mother (Hahn) to explore her first new romance since her divorce, as well as a chance for the children to finally experience their grandparents’ love, and to find out just why they’ve been kept away from them all this time.
The kids are funny–the film actually borders on the fence of comedy–though it’s obvious there is a deep sadness to them both that stems from the departure of their father. This trip is a welcome change for the whole family, but there is something about Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie) that is just off: soon after bedtime the kids start hearing strange sounds, whose source they briefly confirm to be their grandmother doing weird, creepy, horrible things. Knives and nakedness are involved. Projectile vomiting. Scratching doors. Running around the foundations of the house. It’s nasty, but the excuses they get from Pop Pop are enough for Becca to calm down. Old people can be weird and senile. It’s normal, apparently–until it really, really isn’t.
The film is thoroughly scary, not because of gore or jump scares but because of the carefully crafted story which lures us into caring for these kids, only to put them in crazy and dangerous situations that escalate severely. Dunagan and McRobbie do an excellent job of being both endearingly adorable and psychotically creepy at the same time, and the plot twist, in a classic Shyamalan move, comes at the perfect moment, turning the tables upside down.
Well-worth a watch for horror fans, Shyamalan fans, and fans of genre-blurring films, with Becca and Tyler’s scathing remarks on the film industry upstaging even the jumpiest of scares and sounding much like the words of a man burned one time too many by the general lack of “artistic integrity” in the business, The Visit is a good reminder of Shyamalan’s potential.