NOTICE: This review contains only very minor spoilers, and should not ruin your viewing experience.
M. Night Shyamalan is back at it again with The Visit, his first horror / thriller since Devil was released five years ago.
Shyamalan once more brings his unique blend of PG-13 horror and comedy into a film far more satisfying then some of the infamously terrible offerings he has put out in past — The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender were all generally considered failures. This damaged his reputation, and, combined with his tendency to include a twist in his stories, created a general trepidation for viewers going into his new releases. Not only is there an underlying worry that the movie may be another disappointment, but many viewers also find themselves distracted by trying to predict if there will be a twist, and if so, what it might be: something more realistic? Or possibly sci-fi? Or maybe paranormal like The Sixth Sense? For others, though, not knowing what to expect is just part of the fun.
As with most of his movies, the story takes place (and was filmed) in Pennsylvania, and starts off in the city of Philadelphia. The film is centred on two siblings: 15-year-old Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and her 13-year-old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) who live in the city with their mother, Paula (Kathryn Hahn). Paula is estranged from her parents, who get in touch at last and express their desire to finally meet their grandchildren. The kids take a bus out to a small, rural town, and “Pop-Pop” (Peter McRobbie) and “Nana” (Deanna Dunagan) take them to their farmhouse … but naturally, this being a horror movie, all is not as it seems.
Pennsylvania is known for being full of strange occurrences, weird rural communities and haunted places, making it an ideal location for the film, with a perfect atmosphere of uncertainty and isolation. Rebecca is an amateur filmmaker, and we see the story in real-time through her camera lens in found-footage style. It’s worth mentioning for those who are not big fans of this type of perspective that this device is used tastefully; you shouldn’t feel motion-sick or be disappointed with the quality of the visuals. It also adds an extra element of fear, making the spectator feel as though they are actually seeing the events through the eyes of the children.
The Visit does a good job at keeping a constant underlying element of suspense, as both the children and the audience try to understand exactly what is going on with the grandparents. Many viewers can expect a few decent scares; the movie effectively builds up tension in many scenes using several different elements. The musical score also does an effective job of adding to the overall creepy vibe.
The actors do not disappoint. The endearing performances by the children especially help the audience to get more involved with the plot and become emotionally invested in the characters. Ed Oxenbould brings a lot of the comedic aspect to the film as Tyler, who is quick with jokes; at 13, he’s already a wannabe ladies’ man aspiring to be a freestyle rapper with the moniker “T-Diamond Stylus.”
Hopefully this is the beginning of another successful, upward trend for Shyamalan. As with most movies, there are a few unexplained or questionable points throughout the story, but overall, horror / thriller buffs, faithful Shyamalan fans, and skeptics alike should enjoy this cryptic tale of family drama and dark secrets.