Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Stars: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Peter McRobbie, Deanna Dunagan, Kathryn Hahn.
M Night Shyamalan subverts the usual expectations of the fairy tale visit with kindly old grandmother with this mix of horror and uncomfortable black comedy. The subdued horror film The Visit marks a return to form of sorts for the Sixth Sense filmmaker, whose last couple of films were the awful The Last Airbender and After Earth, both of which were massive box office flops. Part of the problem with Shyamalan’s films is that, ever since his breakthrough with The Sixth Sense, audiences are looking for the twist in the tail. And there is often a sense of anticlimax to his final revelation.
Becca (Australian actress Olivia DeJonge, from tv series Hiding, etc) and her inquisitive younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are going to spend a week with their grandparents whom they have never met. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) is estranged from her parents for reasons that date back to when she was thrown out of home for falling pregnant at nineteen. But with mum about to take a well deserved cruise, she reluctantly agrees to send the children to her parents’ place.
The two kids are excited about visiting their grandparents and Becca, a budding filmmaker, wants to record the visit on film, hoping to make a documentary about their week in the Pennsylvania countryside. This enables Shyamalan to use the first person point of view camera that has been an integral part of the Paranormal Activity franchise and its found footage aesthetic. But Shyamalan also breaks many of the rules of the genre. And for the most part he is quite effective here in building suspense and suffusing the quite rural setting with an air of subtle menace and understated horror. Maryse Alberti captures some crisp images, but the cinematography is a bit too slick for the found footage genre though.
There is a gradually growing air of foreboding here as their grandparents (played by Peter McRobbie and Tony award winning actress Deanna Dunagan) seem strange and their behaviour grows increasingly unnerving, especially after the sun goes down. At first their odd behaviour is dismissed as a result of them being a little senile. Grandma has a habit of wandering around the house at night, and Grandad warns the pair that it is probably best if they stay in their rooms at night. And what secret is grandpa hiding in the woodshed?
McRobbie, a theatre veteran, brings a genuinely unnerving and creepy demeanour to his performance, gradually cranking up the weirdness. Young Oxenbould is cementing a stellar career with solid roles in Paper Planes and Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. He is great here and brings energy and enthusiasm to his performance as the germaphobic Tyler, but his character also seems annoying at times. DeJonge brings a more mature attitude to her role as the sensible Becca.
Shyamalan knows the tropes of the horror genre well and he maintains a brisk pace throughout. He injects plenty of moments of dark humour into the material. There are also a couple of well placed shocks, and one really gross out moment. Unfortunately the film is let down by a slightly conventional and unnecessary epilogue.