Movie Review: The Visit
By Matthew Huntley
September 17, 2015
The Visit is a horror-thriller in which a lot of weird and unwholesome things happen when two pre-adolescent siblings visit their grandparents’ remote farmhouse. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan presents it mostly as a found footage-type experience by making Becca (Olivia DeJonge), older sister of Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), an aspiring documentary filmmaker and letting us watch her footage.
Becca has a specific agenda in mind: to capture their weeklong visit as a means to learn about their mom’s (Kathryn Hahn) upbringing and hopefully reconnect her with her estranged parents, to whom she hasn’t spoken in over 15 years after she ran off with Becca and Tyler’s father, who has since abandoned them. The grandparents have recently expressed interest in meeting their grandkids for the first time, which is where their visit comes into play.
When Becca and Tyler first arrive, all seems normal and pleasant. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) has baked them homemade pretzels and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) cheerfully applauds young Tyler when he spews out his latest impromptu rap song featuring a rhyme with “pineapple upside down cake.” The kids have no reason to think their grandparents are any less normal than others.
But then strange things start to occur and it becomes increasingly obvious there’s just something off about grandma and grandpa. For one thing, Nana suffers from sundowning, a “chemical condition” in which one’s behavior turns erratic and irritable after the sun goes down. In the middle of the night, for instance, she vomits uncontrollably, compulsively scratches the walls, and scurries around naked.
At first, Becca thinks this is all just a part of getting old, but during the day, Nana’s actions prove to be just as unnerving, like when she violently chases after Becca and Tyler under the house during a game of hide and seek; or when she eerily laughs to herself while sitting in a rocking chair staring at the wall; or when she asks Becca to get completely inside the oven to clean it (a request that undoubtedly calls to mind Hansel and Gretel).
Pop Pop isn’t any less disturbing. He’s always tossing something in his shed out back and pretends like he doesn’t hear Tyler calling after him. This prompts Tyler to investigate, and without giving anything away, what he discovers is something nobody would ever want to find. There’s also the case of Pop Pop dressing up for an imaginary costume ball and attacking a man on the street for no reason. Given the way they act, it’s hard to believe he and Nana are the same respected counselors at the local hospital.
The more the story unravels, the more bizarre and creepy things get, at least on paper. On film, they come across as silly and unintentionally comical. That’s because the way in which Shyamalan tries to unsettle us is through stock horror and shock clichés, like suddenly showing someone in frame at a moment’s notice; or having a loud crescendo burst on the soundtrack; or allowing the camera to act as a fly on the wall as inexplicable events happen while it records (think Paranormal Activity). Shyamalan tries to throw one ghastly moment at us after another until his trademark “big reveal,” at which point we start thinking back on the rest of the film to make sure he didn’t cheat somewhere along the way. While this proves mildly fun and amusing, we’ve seen these same techniques time and again and they’ve simply gotten too old to be effective. And the supposed twist and subsequent climax are really nothing to write home about, probably because they seem borrowed from other movies of this sort.
While I can appreciate its simplicity and unadorned style, The Visit simply didn’t tell a fresh or inspiring enough story - or employ novel enough methods - to be effectively scary or memorable. Despite the freakish events that occur, it ultimately feels standard and everything more or less falls into place according to the rules of the genre, which also made it a somewhat dull experience. It’s unfortunate, too, considering the actors are all perfectly capable and natural on-screen, especially the young DeJonge and Oxenbould, who are convincing and likable. We’re with them the entire time, but as far as Shyamalan’s tactics to get a rise out of us, not so much.