The biggest twist going into M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit was that this is a semi-found-footage movie. The story is told through the perspective of a 15-year-old girl, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) with her younger brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), making a documentary about visiting their grandparents (Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan) for the first time.
Before they were born, the siblings’ mother (Kathryn Hahn) fell in love with an older man whom her parents disapproved of. One day, she left home as a young adult after a fight with her parents and never had contact with them. Eventually, they contacted her so they can meet the grandchildren from their only child.
At the start, it being a faux-documentary was somewhat tedious. However, it does eventually become tolerable and it plays into the narrative of the movie. The reason Becca is recording the week with her grandparents is to document the experience for her and to help reconcile the falling out between her mother and grandparents. It also adds tension in the movie because, by having the movie strictly seen through the siblings’ perspective, it forces the mystery to stay hidden. The journey of the movie for the audience is about uncovering what is happening along with the children.
Due to M. Night Shyamalan’s history of movies, it really is a mystery as to whether a new movie of his will be decent. And, of course, a big twist is expected.
Most of The Visit, especially the first almost half of the running time, is not scary. It’s about the young girl collecting video on her trip. She’s trying to put artistry in the documentary while dealing with her apathetic and somewhat obnoxious 13-year-old brother. He’s a rapper (I’m not a fan of rap, let alone children trying to rap) and the one that pushes for the stupid decisions when they are facing the horror later in the movie.
A big problem – and plot convenience – is that their grandparents live on a secluded farm by a small town (which the children travelled to by train). They don’t have cell service, but luckily for Becca, they have wired internet service in the house.
The children’s stay starts out normal, but as the days pass, the more and more bizarre and out of place things seem to be. The first night, they are told by the grandfather that bed time is 9:30 because the grandparents both like to get to sleep early. However, Becca later wants to go downstairs to get something later in the night, but before she goes down the staircase, she sees the grandmother down on the main floor vomiting. This is the first instance of many really disgusting things throughout the movie. Shyamalan seems to want to gross-out his audience. The incident is explained by the grandfather the next morning as a 24-hour stomach flu. But, of course, events through both the night and day become far more disturbing.
The suspiciousness of the grandparents and the property is compounded by the grandfather’s mysterious farm shed and by the grandchildren being forbidden to go into the basement on the pretense that there is mold growing in the walls.
Still, the needed omnipresent sense of isolation for the movie to be more effective is lacking, however. The video recorded style doesn’t seem to allow for good ambiance, so although that style is needed for this particular story and unfolding of mystery, it shoots itself in the foot by taking away the necessary atmospheric elements. And, of course, the two cameras that they have are always in the right place, at the right angle, recording at the right time.
There wouldn’t be a movie if that wasn’t the case, and these found-footage type movies all have that similar factor in common. To give credit where credit is due, Shyamalan does a good job with this limiting and arguably worn out style of movie making.
The children’s characters are well developed and the audience can empathize with them. Both of the actors that play the grandparents are good at being very strange. In the grandfather’s case, not too strange, but just right to have the balance between being an eccentric elderly character that the children are starting to get to know, and something perhaps more sinister.
I would hate to give anything about the bulk of the plot away. It’s the kind of movie that’s good to see once because when the mystery is uncovered, there’s no reason to see it again. It’s precisely because of the mystery that the movie is worth seeing though. However, there are some hints throughout the middle of the movie that lead to some of the uncovered mysteries to be expected.
Overall, it’s not the best M. Night Shyamalan movie, but it’s not his worst. At least he doesn’t pull the wool over the audience’s eyes this time with a story that completely falls apart under scrutiny like he did with Signs.