In 1999, director/writer M. Night Shyamalan spooked movie audiences when a young Haley Joel Osment recited the classic line; ‘I see dead people’ in his acclaimed supernatural thriller, “The Sixth Sense.” Shyamalan continued with other eerie films, such as “Signs” and “The Village,” before taking a step back from the genre. Now the director has returned to his roots, teaming up with the producing powerhouse and horror expert, Jason Blum for “The Visit.” In this somewhat headache-inducing found-footage project, Shyamalan delivers a surprisingly humorous and oddly bizarre story. Although it may not be what moviegoers are expecting, the filmmaker somehow finds a way to pack plenty of laughs and scares into 1 hour and 34 minutes.
With 99.9% of horror films being shot in the found-footage format today, 95% of them have shaky-camera syndrome; leaving the audience with an unnecessary movie migraine. In the case of “The Visit,” it makes sense. The highly intelligent teenage Becca (Olivia Dejonge) is determined to make her first award-winning documentary. Fifteen years ago, her mother (Kathryn Hahn) had a falling-out with her parents. For the first time, Becca’s grandparents have reached out and requested that she and her younger brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) visit them for a few days at their farmhouse. Once the trip is planned, Becca documents every moment on camera, in hopes of capturing footage for her film and one day reuniting her mother with her grandparents. As soon as Mom drops Becca and Tyler off at the train station, they are left in the care of Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). All seemed normal, with homemade cookies and chicken pot pie dinners… until after bedtime. Becca, and especially Tyler quickly grew suspicious of their grandparents’ behavior. It turns out they had good reason to question Nana and Pop Pop’s unusual ways.
Without giving too much away, “The Visit” is a slow build-up to a deranged plot twist. With Becca and Tyler’s authentic documentary-style camera work, and their endearing personalities, it’s easy to step into their world.
They discover that Nana and Pop Pop are perhaps suffering from aging mental disorders; from sunset syndrome to dementia. In the middle of the night, Nana scratches walls and walks around with a knife. In the daytime, Pop Pop believes people are following him. While these all may seem like normal actions from unhinged senior citizens, something is awry.
Dejonge portrays the perfect too-smart-for-her-own-good adolescent big sister, but it’s Oxenbould who really steals the show. He is the true star of the film with his hilarious freestyle raps and comedic timing. Even Dunagan and McRobbie contribute to some of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments.
Throughout the film, there is an odd see-saw effect of both funny and terrifying scenes, which makes you wonder what you’re really watching. Yet, somehow these juxtaposed elements work in Shyamalan’s favor.
So if you want a straight-forward supernatural horror film, this is not the movie for you. But, if you’re looking to jump out of your seat, laugh hysterically, then cover your eyes, and laugh again, buy your ticket now.
By Pamela Price
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language