The poster for The Visit boasts “From the Director of The Sixth Sense and Signs and the Producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious.”
That’s an interesting pairing, if only because it means that M. Night Shyamalan – that aforementioned director who at one point was almost a genre onto himself – has apparently now decided to do a genre movie. It’s no secret Shyamalan has had a rough go at the box office for a while now. For a guy who’s had a few high profile flops, there has to be an appeal to the low budget nature of these films. There’s just not the same burden of expectation.
But it’s not every day you see someone with as distinctive a voice as Shyamalan take on something with such an established visual, if not narrative, flavour.
The good news is they’re actually a pretty good fit. The blend of these two brands is a relatively fun, if not entirely
successful, little experiment. The film combines Shyamalan’s gift for misdirection and fancy plotting, with the claustrophobic
atmosphere of the found footage genre.
The film kicks off with Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) on their way to visit grandparents they’ve
never known. Their mother Paula (the always great Kathryn Hahn) has had no contact with her parents since she left home some 15 years ago.
The kids however, precocious as they are, have decided to go mainly so that their mom can take a trip with her new
boyfriend – I guess it’s safe to say they approve of the guy. And so they depart their home for an isolated farm in Somewhere With Snow, USA.
There the kids meet John and Doris (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie), who on the surface seem like a fairly nice, well-adjusted couple. They just have one rule: don’t leave your room after 9:30 p.m. If that sounds foreboding you’ve seen a horror movie or two in your lifetime.
Shyamalan’s script finds its greatest struggles in the early going. He’s not immune to the typical story pitfalls of the horror genre so we’re of course treated to a few throwaway lines about how the cell phones don’t work so well way out here in… I guess 1999 when that may have been true for a town this size.
Less forgivable is his inability to represent any semblance of how humans under the age of 16 really talk. The young actors themselves are actually pretty good, but the dialogue they’re given is so stilted at times you wonder if the big twist may be that these kids are robots and it’s really the grandparents who have to watch out.
Still, Shyamalan wisely errs on the side of humour and while not every joke hits the mark, I admire the sentiment. There’s
nothing worse than a horror movie that takes itself too seriously. Oxenbould in particular does just about all he can to win you over and his energy is contagious.
And luckily, once the scares start to creep into the film all the dialogue problems seem to disappear and The Visit settles down into a pretty decent horror flick. What’s more, is Shyamalan is able to coax some sweet, genuine character moments out of his young actors in between scaring them half to death. The horror elements may be stripped straight from the Paranormal Activity playbook, but those, those are pure M. Night and I haven’t seen him in this fine form since Signs.
Of course, vintage M. Night always included a sudden, unexpected twist and The Visit is no exception. Whether that twist holds up to further scrutiny is
debatable – but I’ll admit, it roused a thrill out of me at the time. And if you like Shyamalan, it’s nostalgia inducing.
The Visit has its flaws, that’s for certain. But none of them are too far out of line with what you’d find in the movies it boasts about at the top of its poster. I don’t know if it reaches the same heights, but if you’re a fan of those motion pictures you could do worse.