The Visit (2015): Content Warning: Violence, Possible Mental Health Triggers
The Visit (2015)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie
Two siblings become increasingly frightened by their grandparents' disturbing behavior while visiting them on vacation.
IMDb Rating: 6.2
Meeting Nana and Pop Pop
The Visit is found-footage again, although this time it’s much less grotesque than Penance.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are off to meet their grandparents for the first time. It seems there was some unpleasantness in the past involving Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Mom (Kathryn Hahn) which means that they’ve never met them before. In fact, they’ve never even seen a picture of them before. Mom is coy about what exactly happened, but it involves Nana and Pop Pop’s displeasure over her running off with a high-school substitute teacher. Turns out, this guy was a bit of a douche, as he abandoned Mom, Becca and Tyler shortly before this film takes place. It’s fine though, Mom’s got a new man in her life and can go on an exotic cruise with the kids packed off to the grandparents.
Becca fancies herself as a bit of an amateur filmmaker, so she decides to film the visit as a documentary. Tyler fancies himself as a bit of a rapper, so spits some rhymes to annoy us all. A quick interview with Mom and then we’re on the train to meet the grandparents. Here we get treated to Tyler, who calls himself some stupid name, busting some rhymes while a train conductor beat-boxes and Becca runs a commentary.
All typical “smart kid” movie stuff thus far.
Nana and Pop Pop meet the kids at the station. I say “station”, it’s more like a couple of platforms in the middle of arse-end-nowhere. Lots of hugs and awkward shots of the reunited family ensue.
The kids arrive at the family home, eager to relive their mother’s childhood. Nana bakes cookies, while Tyler busts some more rhymes about pineapple upside-down cake, and Becca films it all. Everything seems to be going well. Pop Pop reminds the kids that he and Nana are old, so bedtime is 9:30, but Becca has become addicted to whatever narcotic Nana has been putting in her cakes – she claims it’s slightly burned walnuts but I’m not buying it – so sneaks out of the room to pilfer some cookies. Unfortunately, she sees Nana wandering around projectile vomiting and runs back to bed.
“We’re Old” – The Go To Excuse for Senior Citizen Eccentricity
During the following week, Nana and Pop Pop act odder and odder. Becca, being so mature, is happy to display her patronising attitude to older people by buying the “we’re old” excuse whenever it is trotted out. It doesn’t matter whether Nana is chasing them around under the house like an elderly, but sprightly, Samara/Sadako from The Ring/Ringu films, or whether Pop Pop is picking fights with people at the bus stop. They’re old, so they get confused and that’s fine.
It’s probably not fine though, is it? Tyler tries to bring this up with Mom during a Skype conversation, but Mom’s having too much fun at the hairy chest competition (enough to put me off a cruise) so dismisses any eccentricities as her parents being old. I can see where Becca’s open-mindedness comes from.
This is an M. Night Shyamalan film, so there’s definitely a twist coming. We all know this. Since the twist of The Sixth Sense resulted in the greatest total of irate moviegoers having a film spoiled for them since The Crying Game or Soylent Green, you know Mr. Night Shyamalan is going to throw some twists and turns along the way. Some things are less than subtle. For example, we get a rather overdone scene of Tyler speaking about how he freezes under pressure. Others are much more subtle, such as Nana’s use of a recipe card. Either way, M. Night Shyamalan does try his best to explain everything in The Visit so that you’re not going to immediately jump on IMDb and start picking holes in it. Of course, many people jumped straight on IMDb to start picking holes in it.
Maybe It’s Because I’ve Watched So Much Crap Lately…
Having recently sat through such movie-mush as Muck and Cherry Tree, as well as the aforementioned Penance, it might be that anything resembling competent filmmaking seems such a refreshing change that I’m willing to cut The Visit a lot of slack. Sure, there’s a lot of setup to explain away things that don’t really make sense under scrutiny. Even if you are still involved in a squabble with your parents, to the extent that in at least fifteen years your kids have never even seen a photograph of them, would you really be agreeing to sending your kids to stay with said parents for a week unaccompanied? I don’t know, but it seems a bit of a stretch.
Similarly, there’s the standard horror-movie absence of judgement that serves only to generate further cheap scares. But if you can glance over these quibbles, there’s a lot to like about The Visit. At times it’s a mildly, if not spectacularly, effective chiller. Some jump scares are far too telegraphed to truly work, but the way in which the movie bubbles and boils over into sheer horror is pretty well managed. It’s very well acted too. Olivia DeJonge, in particular, is very convincing as the not-so-smart smart kid. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are near-perfect as the oddball elderly couple trying to explain away their increasingly erratic behaviour.
Ordinarily, there would be everything for me to dislike about this movie. I generally don’t do too well with horror movies that have children as central characters. They just tend to annoy me somehow. I’m also not fond of found-footage films, with a handful of exceptions. And, if I’m truly honest, M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t ever produced a solid hit for me (and that includes The Sixth Sense). Yet this one seems to work. Oh, it’s not perfect but I’d be heading into serious spoiler territory if I wrote out every criticism I had. Despite this, it is kinda enjoyable. I doubt I’ll ever feel the need to watch it again, but I certainly don’t feel that I wasted yet another ninety-minutes of my life by watching it.
If you’re not a fan of slow-burner horror movies, you could probably comfortably pass on this one. But if you can dig the slow-burner, and accept that this only ever reaches “mildly creepy” territory, then you might just be able to have some fun with The Visit.