M. Night Shyamalan has some great creative ideas. You can’t argue that most of his films come from a great central concept, be it a boy who can see dead people, a modern-day superhero or people randomly killing themselves one day. The issue is always that, aside from some notable exceptions, most of the time he doesn’t know how to bring that idea to the screen successfully. He is an ideas man but seems to lack the skills to build a story around that concept.
The Visit is, unfortunately, no different. The central concept of two children, staying with their estranged and mysterious Grandparents, then witnessing first-hand some very strange behaviour, is full of creepy promise. It is just in the delivery that the cracks begin to show.
First of all, Shyamalan chooses to use the “found footage” format. It is format that stifles creativity rather than develops it and although The Visit is actually one of the better examples of how to successfully utilise the device, it also means that we don’t really get anything original that we haven’t seen many times before. Shaky chases, the occasional cattle-prod scare, sudden bangs or movement in empty rooms and the unfathomable holding of a camera while being attacked or chased. Found footage does bring you closer to the scares but The Visit isn’t particularly scary – it is much more disturbing.
Disturbing is something The Visit does very well. Most of this is down to the two Grandparents. Nana and Pop Pop are played to their creepy best by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie. These two actors throw themselves into the role with impressive gusto, being idyllic Grandparents in one moment and then supremely creepy in another. From classic tropes such as Nana in a rocking chair, laughing to herself to Pop Pop placing something slightly strange in the shed; the two keep you on edge whenever they are on-screen.
This is much more the case for Deanna Dunagan who “comes alive” when the sun goes down. She is clearly revelling in the running, screeching and strange behaviour which keeps both the children and the audience on their toes.
The children border on the annoying but manage to rein it in just enough. Olivia DeJonge’s Becca is arrogant, snobby and portrays a perfect documentary director, honing her craft in irritating fashion. Ed Oxenbould’s Tyler is the character who switches from annoying to sympathetic the most. You will find yourself cringing at his rapping but rooting for him as he investigates the shed.
As disturbing as it is, it never really feels that original or groundbreaking. If you have seen Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity or any other found footage horror, you’ve seen what The Visit has to offer. There is some reprieve when the actual “mystery” surrounding the Grandparents is revealed but when this happens, you can’t help but feel slightly cheated.
The Visit feels like it should be cleverer than it actually becomes. There could be a film here about dementia and growing old, or estranged families and forgiveness. There is a good drama here or a horror disguised as something uncomfortably real. Instead, when the “reveal” does come, you will find yourself watching events unfold rather than being deeply rooted in the outcome.
Overall, The Visit is another example of a great Shyamalan idea executed poorly. It has a decent central concept which is established very well but the decision to film it as found footage means that any originality is lost in the delivery. The acting saves the film somewhat and add to that some truly creepy and disturbing moments and you will find points to savour but in the end, The Visit doesn’t really offer much you haven’t seen many times before.
Rating – 3
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