For a while now M. Night Shyamalan has been considered a relative joke of a director. After Earth and Avatar: The Last Airbender were expensive failures. The Happening is one of the best worst films out there. Yet, something happened with Shyamalan adding ‘producer’ to his foray with the watchable Devil – a film that feels like it could have been a Shyamalan film all along. The hokiness of The Happening is wholeheartedly embraced with his latest outing, The Visit.
Kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) head off to spend a week with their grandparents, whilst their mother (Kathryn Hahn) heads off with her boyfriend on a cruise. Their mum had left home fifteen years earlier and after an event, never spoke to her parents again. Not one to let a grudge get in the way of a relationship between grandparent and grandchild, she sends them on their way.
The basic set up of The Visit is nice and simple and allows Shyamalan to shine instead of being beholden to a high concept which is deliberately obtuse to hide some massive rug pull twist (ala The Village). This is a ‘found footage’ film where Becca is a wannabe documentary filmmaker looking to create a documentary that will bridge the divide between her mum and her grandparents. If this idea sounds cheesy and tired, well, it can come across that way, but Shyamalan’s believeable writing on both Becca and Tyler helps build a realistic scenario.
As a failed wannabe filmmaker myself, I could relate to Becca’s use of film terms like mise en scene. As a wannabe rapper as well, I could relate to Tyler’s (very impressive) rapping skills and impression that he’s an ultra-confident individual. How well The Visit works for you lies with how much you buy into these two kids – and thanks to great performances from both DeJonge and Oxenbould, buying into their roles is made all the more easier. Thankfully, they’re supported by a truly enjoyable (and exceptionally physical) performance from Deanna Dunagan as Nana. Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) is a less convincing character, but that’s possibly only because he’s given less to do than Dunagan’s Nana.
Really, if you’re buying a ticket to see The Visit, you’re buying it because you want to see some old people do some creepy things for ninety minutes. Well, at least that’s why I bought my ticket. And without a doubt do they do some creepy things – odd occurrences at night, eating food oddly, random bowel movements. As with rapping kid and pseudo-documentary filmmaker, the creepiness factor here is tuned a little bit more to the side of absurd than most horror films. For me, this absurdity helped with the scares more than I thought it would and made moments like the hide and seek under the house even more chilling.
Now, The Visit isn’t going to make you lose sleep or anything like that – Martyrs this is not – however, it is going to work just like a haunted house will. It’s a little hokey, it’s a little shlocky, but you’re here to have fun and have a few jumps along the way. And that’s something The Visit delivers in spades. I’ve honestly not grinned so hard this year as I did with the climax of The Visit – its pure unbridled madness is such a joy to behold that when one of the characters cops of a diaper to the face, well, I just couldn’t contain myself. I think I even clapped.
As mentioned, Deanna Dunagan commits wholeheartedly to a physical performance that’s not afraid to show a bit of granny ass. It’s performances like hers as Nana that elevate films like The Visit from being a D-grade straight to DVD bland horror film to an enjoyable late night B-movie cinema experience. Dunagan scuttles around the house at night like a rabid dog, scratching at doors, elevating the creepiness factor just that little bit more. McRobbie’s Pop Pop is suitable enough, but doesn’t do much more than look blank faced and confused.
Just like the supremely underrated and underseen Orphan, I forsee The Visit becoming a film I’ll watch regularly. Maybe it’ll be for the rapping, maybe it’ll be for the changing of swear words to female pop star names – oh Shakira. Either way, it’ll definitely be partially for the wholehearted full body performance of Dunagan and for the general creepiness factor overall of the surprisingly believable story.