My entire viewing of M. Night Shyamalan’s most recent film, The Visit, had me alternately laughing, gripping my chair intensely, and quivering with tears in my eyes. I’m not sure a horror movie has ever made me feel like this, and that is not a good thing. I really wish there were more horror films like The Visit.
Warning: Intermittent Spoilers Ahead.
Now, admittedly some people might want to term this film a suspense-thriller, but as tense as I found myself being for such a large portion of the film, I’m willing to argue that point. And the fact that an argument could be made, and made well for saying that this film is of multiple genres is exactly where it’s strengths lie, and that is exactly why I love it.
The movie actually takes a fairly long time to get going as it isn’t until around the beginning of the first night that the children are with their “Grandparents” that we begin to start to feel something may be wrong. And what is the movie doing up until that point? It is building character.
This is something that is woefully underdone in this genre as whether it is a horror game, book, or movie, we often find ourselves confronted by bland people who are either carbon copies of genre stereotypes or are just more boring and emotionless than any person in real life could ever be.
In The Visit, way before the scares, we begin to get familiarized with our protagonists. Rebecca is a smart and well-read teenage girl with a pension for videography whereas her brother, Tyler, is a little less verbose but equally talented. He fancies himself the next rapping sensation and is about as likely to stay silent as Rebecca is to put down her camera. The kids both have clear and well-defined personalities and even with the basic information we know about them from the start of the film we as the viewer’s begin to recognize these characters as actual human beings. This is vital to building tension and without it this film would fall as flat as any terrible horror d-movie you’ve ever seen.
Right from the beginning these people come across as potentially real children instead of random nondescript cardboard cutouts like in so many genre films. This ramps everything up to the next level; when the “Grandparents” start acting weirder and weirder and Tyler starts to suspect that something is truly awry that comes across as real concern, and when things start getting more and more sinister as, for example, when Rebecca is repeatedly asked to climb inside the oven to clean it, or when they finally put a camera out at night and the “Grandmother” tries to get into their room with a knife you hopefully have connected with these children to the point that you cringe at the active danger that these old folks is posing to them.
And the character building doesn’t stop at the beginning. Throughout the whole film, there are peaks and valleys of tension, and in between those cathartic moments of terrified unease we learn even more about the kids, how they may be in danger, and who these old folks are really supposed to be. One moment really sticks out to me in particular and that is when Rebecca is asking Tyler questions about their absentee Father in the barn and then again when Tyler turns the tables on her shortly after. That section alone made me really feel for these kids and dread for their safety even more.
With all this familiarizing going on by the time we got to the twist I was too involved to see it coming. From the moment that I found out that these manic old people actually weren’t the children’s Grandparents I was gripping the sides of my seat, hoping with a fevered intensity that they could make a break for the door. And after those psychopaths were taken down I found myself surprisingly moved. I was tearing up, ever so slightly during the final monolog from their mother and that is something that I am not sure I have ever experienced during a movie of this type before. And that really is a shame. I wish more movies could take a hint from The Visit and turn Pilot A, Warrior B, and Frightened Victim C into real people that I hope make it out alive.
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Trent Katzenberger is a writer, youtuber, gamer, nerd, and just all around a strange sort of guy. He loves trying new stuff and creating odd things.