The Visit (2015)
<<This review may contain implicit spoilers>>
‘The Visit’ is the 11th movie of director M. Night Shyamalan, probably still best known for his film ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999). In ‘The Visit’, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and Becca (Olivia DeJonge), brother and sister, visit their grandparents whom they have never previously seen. Once at their grandparents’ cottage, the duo starts making a video diary of their visit, depicting their day-to-day activities at the cottage. However, what at first glance looks like a promising and comfy stay at their long-lost relatives’ place turns out to be an experience they would never forget.
Previous M. Night Shyamalan’s movies, such as ‘Lady in the Water’ (2006) and ‘The Last Airbender‘ (2010), have not been the most popular among critics, but ‘The Visit’ is quite different from these movies in that it is the director’s lowest budget studio film. That may be what saves this movie from M. Night Shyamalan’s “over-creativity” because the director could concentrate on the intricacies of the plot, rather than on special effects or settings. ‘The Visit’ is also one of those films that will definitely appeal to the younger audience who can easily associate themselves with the main characters.
As to the content, ‘The Visit’ starts strongly and almost too innocently for a horror movie. The two kids, nervously, but happily, make their way to their grandparents’ home, where they settle in and look forward to their first shared activities. However, they soon notice the strange behaviour of their grandmother, and often-unpredictable temperament of their grandfather. Old people, of course, often differ in their behaviour from young people, but where one is to draw a line and term a behaviour abnormal?
There are plenty to boast here on M. Night Shyamalan’s part. Although there are scarier movies out there, ‘The Visit’ has a peculiar originality. The film has this unexpected twist somewhere an hour into the story, a twist which makes the film somewhat scary for the first time; and also deploys hand-held-camera effects which create and boost the film’s creepiness. Nowadays, we definitely need horror films that are somewhat unusual in their story or representation, and things like a hand-held camera by one of the leads or a totally unexpected ending are like a breath of fresh air. Another interesting thing to notice about ‘The Visit’ is that halfway through, the film starts to explore the emotional states and subconscious processes of the grandchildren, possibly caused through the fact that their father left their mother for another woman; the boy appears in denial, while the girl tries to come to terms with what happened through talking and leaving subtle clues. These emotional clues left by the children make the story creepier and provide for a nice emotional input so as to connect with the audience on a deeper level.
There are also many funny moments in this movie, and the young cast acting is good: this is the first horror movie for both Ed Oxenbould (Tyler) and Olivia DeJonge (Becca) and both feel surprisingly at ease on the set of ‘The Visit’, as well as show off some decent acting skills. In particular, Tyler “descharges” the creepy atmosphere by either telling funny jokes or one-liners or plainly rapping away.
The biggest problem with ‘The Visit’ is that it takes too much time to “build-up” its atmosphere. The movie is a real “slow-burner”. There is tension and some creepiness permeating the film, but 40 minutes on, the film story is no way near any progress. Surely, more should be happening in more than half-an hour running time – more than a simple depiction of seemingly ordinary, although sometimes frankly disturbing, “old-people’s problems”, no matter how bizarre they may seem to children. Only at the 70th minute into the film, the story accelerates its pace and becomes imaginative, if, of course, the viewers are patient enough to wait that long. If, and only if, one is patient enough to sit through to the ending, the culmination of ‘The Visit’ is somewhat rewarding: at the end, the movie does become scary and excitingly terrorising, reminiscing another decent horror film ‘The Strangers’ (2008). In other words, there is too much “slow burning” here, often without the hope of ever seeing the final “fireworks”, and although ‘The Visit’ is never tiresome to watch, it also does not “grab” you immediately like so many other horror flicks out there do.
Another of this film’s downsides has to do with the dialogue: it is either irrelevant to the story or delivered too quietly, almost inaudibly. Some of the dialogue in ‘The Visit’ concerns Becca’s attempt to establish meaningful connection between her mother and grandmother, which had broken down when Becca’s mother left her maternal home some years ago following a family feud. However, M. Night Shyamalan does not pursue this sub-story thoroughly enough or makes it fit the picture well. The result is lots of irrelevant dialogue, side-tracking the audience from the main story, and boring them with sentimental notions of forgiveness and faith that seem completely at odds with the creepy horror setting.
Overall, although creepy and tense, rather than genuinely scary, this latest horror movie from M. Night Shyamalan, nevertheless, almost seals the director’s long-awaited comeback to form. 7/10