After the back-to-back disappointments of After Earth and The Last Airbender, both commercially and critically, M. Night Shyamalan returns to his roots writing and directing this small scale horror film that thankfully doesn't include him in the cast list.
Seeing an opportunity to give their mother some much needed "me time" with her new boyfriend and for them to learn a bit about their family, teenagers Becca (Olivia Dejonge) and Tyler(Ed Oxenbould) go and stay with their estranged grandparents for a week, grandparents who their mother (Kathryn Hahn) hasn't spoken to in 19 years. Of course, budding documentarian/documentary filmmaker Becca brings along enough cameras to record this momentous occasion, whilst Tyler unfortunately brings his rap "skills".
At first "Nana"(Deanna Dunagan) and "Pop-Pop" (Peter McRobbie) seem straight out of a Frank Kapra movie; Nana constantly baking sweet things while Pop-Pop takes care of the land. It's not long, though, before Becca and Tyler start noticing that something's not quite right around the isolated farmhouse and start asking some questions. What are those strange noises in the house at night? What's hidden in the shed at the end of the yard? What's down in the basement that Tyler and Becca are not supposed to go in?
While most horror aficionados may guess what's going on before the rest of the audience, Shyamalan deftly plays tug-of-war with the audience's expectations. Setting up strange behaviour by the grandparents that appear to have perfectly reasonable explanations when examined in the cold light of day and their advancing age. Overreactions to Becca's invasive interview techniques seem a lot less out of the ordinary when Becca herself doesn't react to well under similar, in-camera, questioning from her brother.
It may not be clear from the marketing but the whole film, with some very minor exceptions, is shown only through the lenses of Becca's two cameras, but The Visit manages to avoid feeling like "just another found footage movie". There are plenty of effective scares throughout, but the audience, like Becca and Tyler, are kept guessing as to their nature; are they supernatural in origin, is there a medical explanation or could there be something else going on?
Once the threat is finally revealed, some of the suspense is lost, but this doesn't quite take away from what has gone before. The blow is also softened considerably by the wicked sense of humour that runs throughout, although many may groan at Tyler's thankfully infrequent rapping.
The Visit is by no means a perfect horror film, but it does show that Shyamalan can still tell a scary story and tell it well. Hopefully he continues to do so and avoids the nonsensical twists and bloat that plagued his work after his initial success.
THE VISIT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN / STARRING: OLIVIA DEJONGE, ED OXENBOULD, DEANNA DUNAGAN, PETER MCROBBIE, KATHRYN HAHN / RELEASE DATE: OUT
Expected Rating: 4 out of 10Actual Rating: