Creepy basements that you’re warned not to go into; check. Grandpa assuring you that cleaning his double barrelled shot gun in the woodshed needs to be nestled in his mouth while he’s at it; check. Noises and scratching outside your room and scratching paired with insatiable curiosity that you can’t help but investigate; check. Grandma asking you to jump all the way in to her giant oven to clean it; check. That’s right The Visit does everything that you hate about contemporary horror, and yet, it’s an absolute blast.
Aspiring and inquisitive teen filmmaker Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) convince their mother (Kathryn Hahn) to rekindle her long strained relationship with her parents. As a result, Mom goes away on a cruise and leaves the kids to meet and stay with their grandparents for the first time.
Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan goes ‘found footage’ for his latest foray into the horror genre, and thus, we observe only what Becca and Tyler’s various cameras see of their entire journey. Shyamalan gets inside the heads of these children and makes their perspective feel especially authentic. Olivia DeJonge’s Becca is a master director ‘wannabe,’ who prides herself as much on being able to talk the talk of her idols as she does in crafting her familial filmic document. Ed Oxenbould’s Tyler is the blustery younger brother who prefers to idolise gangster rappers and knock his sister down a few pegs than to constantly receive her direction. There’s a lovely subtle ‘director versus actor battle’ happening in the film that feels like Shyamalan is abstractly poking fun at his own on set experiences.
DeJonge does a great job parading around as a ‘serious’ filmmaker. The entire character is a great device to keep Becca in at a somewhat objective distance with her new grandparents, and creates space to surprise you when the emotional frenzy comes hard. Young Australian Oxenbould is a hoot as Tyler. He’s got such a flair for comedic timing that translates beautifully to the levity used as relief in The Visit. He’s the little ratbag of a brother who does precisely what you don’t want him to do, which gets him into the trouble that you’ve spent your time (often audibly) willing him not to do it.
Shyamalan treads a fine line with Deanna Dunagan’s Nana and Peter McRobbie’s Pop Pop. There could be something strange or wicked occurring behind the sleepwalking night terrors, the weird trips to the woodshed, the drastic mood swings or it could be a result of age and the imagination of our youthful guides. Dunagan and McRobbie both take the plunge with these disconcerting roles and as Becca and Tyler try and get to the bottom of what’s really going on with Nana and Pop Pop they are willing to transition from nurturing to nasty.
The twist is that The Visit reminds you that M. Night Shyamalan has a remarkable mind for what frightens us.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn
Olivia DeJonge … Becca
Ed Oxenbould …Tyler
Deanna Dunagan … Nana
Peter McRobbie … Pop Pop
Kathryn Hahn … Mom