Not, in the end, the massive return to form we might have hoped for from M. Night Shyamalan but last autumn’s The Visit certainly helped cleanse movie-going palettes left rancid in the wake of the once-hot director’s recent stinkers such as The Happening, The Last Airbender and even the slightly less offensive SF romp After Earth. The Visit doesn’t exactly fire on all cylinders but it does suggest that Shyamalan has at least some creative fuel left in his tank...
The Visit – financed by Shyamalan himself to the tune of just $5 million – dials it right back, abandoning big star names and huge concepts, and just goes about the business of delivering an intriguing, efficient and often wry little horror movie. Rebecca (DeJogne) and Tyler (Oxenbould) are packed off to spend a week with grandparents they’ve never seen as their mother Paula (Hahn) goes off on a cruise with her new beau. Fortunately – for this is a ‘found footage’ style movie – the kids decide to make a film about their experiences and record everything on video. But all is not as it seems in their grandfolks’ snowy country idyll. The old couple are agreeable enough but there are a couple of odd house rules; the kids are forbidden to enter the basement due to toxic mould and they’re strongly advised not to leave their bedroom after 9.30pm. Not unnaturally they venture out of their room in the night and find grandma projectile vomiting and scratching at the walls with her nails. Rebecca and Tyler begin to suspect that all isn’t well with their grandparents...if they are indeed their grandparents at all.
Shyamalan appears to be on surer ground here than he has been of late. The story clips along at a decent pace, the mystery of the bizarre behaviour of the two grandparents is suitably compelling (and, for once, satisfactorily explained) and there are a few disquieting moments where we’re not quite sure what to expect next or where the story might take us. The film’s underlying themes of parental responsibility and abandonment are treated intelligently and with unexpected subtlety and if the denouement and resolution are a little bit sickly then maybe we can make allowances this time, if only because we really want Shyamalan to turn things around in a career which appeared hopelessly dumper-bound.
But it’s not all sweetness and light and cheerfully-goosebump shivers. The cast are all pretty good – especially Dunagan and McRobbie as the creepy grandparents – but there’s really no excuse for Oxenbould’s Tyler, a smart-arse kid whose tendency to break into excruciating raps will have you rooting for the oldies and begging them to shove him into the nearest oven as soon as possible and turn it on to Gas Mark Ten. The Visit really offers up nothing new but it’s well handled by Shyamalan and, having turned a healthy profit (nearly $100 million at the worldwide Box Office) it might at least have gone some way to restoring the director’s confidence and reminding him what audiences loved about his movie-making in the first place.
Special features: Making of, deleted scenes, alternate ending, photos
THE VISIT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN / SCREENPLAY: M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN / STARRING: OLIVIA DEJONGE, ED OXENBOULD, DEANNA DUNAGAN, PETER MCROBBIE, KATHRYN HAHN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW