M. Night Shyamalan is a real oddity in the film industry. Some of you might not remember this, but there was a point where everyone thought he was going to be the next big horror director. Yet lately his career has nose dived into ground, mainly due to the release of such historically awful movies like The Happening and The Last Airbender. After seeing his latest celluloid atrocity, After Earth, I honestly gave up hope on his ability to direct anything worthwhile anymore. Then I saw The Visit and received a small glimmer of hope that the talented director is still in out there. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still some issues with this film; as it falls apart pretty badly once the third act kicks in. However, I am happy to say that this is the first Shyamalan movie I have seen in recent years where just setting my money on fire is not a more productive use of my time. Note we will be talking about the “twist” later on, but I will make sure to give everyone fair warning beforehand.
The Visit follows the story of siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) on a trip to meet their mother’s (Kathryn Hahn) parents for the very first time. See, the family had a falling out when their mother was nineteen so the kids never had a chance to meet their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). Upon their arrival, the duo is given strict rules by their grandparents instructed to never leave their room after 9:30 PM, which is instantly broken on the first night because this is a horror movie after all. After observing some strange behavior by their Nana, Becca and Tyler learn that she suffers from a condition called sundowning; meaning their Nana goes into a bit of a psychosis after the sun sets. We’ll get to the twist later on, but overall I was impressed with the narrative that Shyamalan has given us. It’s not a movie that takes itself to seriously, letting the audience both laugh and scream respectfully (Though the latter is overshadowed by some of the jokes). No really, this movie is actually really humorous too, as it’s very clear from the get go that The Visit isn’t trying to take itself too seriously.
Little brother Tyler is an aspiring rapper, which you’re either going to love or hate, who I found myself really disliking at first. He came off as obnoxious, but as the film progressed Oxenbould won me over with his charisma. His older sister takes charge as an aspiring filmmaker whose using the visit as a way to create a film around the hidden conflict that drove her mother away from her family. For most found footage films people just run around with a camera lacking any sense of purpose, using the idea of a handheld camera as a way to create cheap thrills and jump scares. Thankfully, The Visit avoids this pitfall, letting us see the movie in a less frantic and headache inducing manner. They aren’t just running with the camera like a bunch of idiots and the cinematography is quite impressive at times for this specific genre. The score/sound effects are good but not ground breaking; and the pacing keeps things moving along at a brisk speed. While a fair amount of the scares fall into the jump scare cliche, there are some genuinely tense moments when we reach the second act of movie. However, it’s Nana and Pop Pop that really steal this show.
Old people are pretty easy to make scary, as the plethora of mental and physical diseases offer ample amounts of the bizarre and uncomfortable. Actress Deanna Dunagan dominates her role as Nana, sending chills down my spine every time she was on screen. You never feel truly comfortable around her as just the little ticks and nuances she gives Nana radiate off the screen. When Nana goes into full blown “sundowning” mode she puts other actresses to shame, offering a macabre view into the psychosis of this woman’s deepest, darkest corners. Pop Pop acts as a nice counter weight to Nana, as McRobbie presents a sense of control and power over the frail elderly woman. He is the man you feel most comfortable with out of the couple, as Pop Pop never seems to go full blown crazy like his wife. It was an enjoyable performance, but his story and actions felt rushed during the last act… I suppose it’s time to finally talk about that ending.
WARNING! WARNING! MAJOR SPOILER SECTION BELOW!
Okay so lets talk about that twist ending shall we? Shyamalan is pretty much famous for building a career on making us re-watch movies just to be catch any hidden clues or messages he may have left us. The Sixth Sense and The Village still present some of his best ending shockers, so it came as a surprise that The Visit’s was so tame by comparison. While I was expecting it to be something completely out there, the big twist at the end didn’t come as much of a surprise. Now that’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but I kind of expected to find out that both elders were not who they said they were. Truthfully that was my first guess from watching the trailer alone, but it works in a simple way. The Visit doesn’t try to outstay its welcome or go for the extreme end of movie surprise. In fact the simplicity of it all works nicely, but I couldn’t help feeling unsatisfied. Everything near the end felt so rushed, as Pop Pop’s turning into a complete nut comes kinda out of left field. He doesn’t show a ton of signs like Nana does and the build up to it never really matches the pay off. Also, Tyler’s big moment where he kills the old man with the fridge door, brutal by the way, comes off as more hilarious than triumphant. Hopefully that was the goal, because if it was meant to be serious it failed miserably at it. I understand the fight or flight idea, but it’s hard to believe that he would be completely okay with driving the fridge door over an old man’s head until he dies. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation and it felt like a betrayal to the fun loving character established throughout the rest of the film.
END OF SPOILERS!
Honestly it’s really great to see M. Night Shyamalan still has the ability to directed good movies as I am fairly certain most of the world gave up on him. The Visit is a step in the right direction, offering a good mix of comedy and horror for audiences. Only a few flaws, mainly towards the third act, hold it back from being one of his best; The Visit was a movie worth watching. No really, I’m not messing with you, he made a good movie and you should actually give it a try. One last thing however, Mr. Shyamalan if you’re reading this…stop trying to out do yourself and stick to the genre you’re actually good at.
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A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.