After a seemingly endless string of movies that turned out to be boring, dopey or just outright awful, it seemed that Hollywood twist fanatic M. Night Shyamalan had kissed the days of making modern masterpieces like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable long since goodbye. From the conceptually bizarre (The Happening, The Village) to the simply bad (The Last Airbender – I’m looking square at you), it seemed that the Hitchcockian auteur had lost his touch with making audiences connect with his thoughtfully quiet, yet deeply strange worlds and was destined to fade away without fanfare.
However, in a burst of unexpected suprise worthy of one of his own last acts, Shyamalan came back out of nowhere with the hugely entertaining James McAvoy acting showcase masquerading as a movie known as Split and the curiously little first person horror movie known as The Visit.
Becca and Tyler live with their mother and are set to visit their grandparents for the first time ever. Aspiring cinephile Becca wants to film the whole week long trip and make a documentary out of it in an attempt to heal the rift sizable between her mother and her parents that has been in place since she left home at the age of 19 – Tyler just wants to practice his freestyle rapping which more often than not turns weirdly misogynistic with him finishing every performance with the word “ho”.
However, as the week goes on, the two children start to notice increasingly strange behavior in their grandparents that starts out as weird and soon becomes downright unnerving. “Pop Pop” explains it away merely as “Sundowning”, a chemical imbalance that causes highly erratic behavior in the elderly when night falls, but does this really explain “Nana” scraping on the walls like a frantic animal in the nude or her wandering around the house projectile vomiting at quarter to eleven at night? Soon the oddness spreads to Pop pop too with suspicious trips to the shed and frantic paranoid episodes in public, but Becca and Tyler persevere, assuming that the strains of age have caused all the mental issues they take shelter from nightly.
Finally the end of the visit is in sight, but by then the kids realise that they very well may be in the deepest of shit and whatever is afflicting these dread-inducing duffers is far more serious than a spot of dusk triggered jitters. What is causing this freakish behavior in the grandparents, is it mental, supernatural or something else entirely that’s making Nana “not quite right”?
Obviously I’m not going to spoil The Visit’s secrets here, but the best thing about Shyamalan’s darkly mischievous return to form is that for the most part is keeps the audience a step ahead of its characters, making a cinematic experience that’s hugely fun and suprisingly funny. Taking the same format of other first person frighteners such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, we are literally seeing things from the point of view of our young stars, yet we catch on to the potent waves of dread before they do which makes things as agonisingly tense as waiting in line for a trainee dentist on root canal day. What helps the scares hit even harder is that this is oddly M. Night’s funniest movie by far, it’s disjointed tone succeeding in making the funny scenes funnier and the scares more alarming but when the two merge, it’s sphincter clenching dynamite. A truly unnerving spot of family games is as taunt as a gorilla’s g-string and contains a bestial bellow of “YAHTZEE” that simultaneously elicits uneasy cringes with deep belly laughs.
Quick public service announcement: anyone with a crippling fear of the elderly (which Google reliably informs me is commonly known as Gerontophobia) might want to give this somewhat of a wide birth as the movie takes full advantage of cackling old ladies lunging directly into the camera and scuttling along the floor like a saggy skinned lizard and the seasoned director sure knows how to stage an effective scare or two.
Small in scale and intimate in it’s skin crawling (we’re all scared of the idea of our relative’s mental faculties degenerating like an ice sculpture in a sauna) the movie also benefits in it’s stripped back cast and the likable central performances of our two out-of-their-depth siblings (not to mention an commendably above-and-beyond performance by Deanna Dunagan as Nans) but it’s the modest comeback of it’s director that impresses most thanks to uber-producer Jason Blum.
An efficient and fun creep-fest that’s best watched with a verbal crowd in a very dark room (discussion and debate as to what exactly is up with these gruesome geezers is almost as fun as the film itself), The Visit isn’t breaking any molds or winning any awards for originality but it does exactly what it needs to do to finally score one in the win column for it’s director and provides more than sufficient heebie jeebies that (ironically) doesn’t get old…