These days, the name M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t hold much cinematic weight. The director of “The Sixth Sense” has probably had more failures than successes at this point in his career. With “The Visit”, Shyamalan displays an ember that we hope he fans into flame for all future work!
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have never met their grandparents. After their mom (Kathryn Hahn) left her parents’ home after a feud for a relationship with an older man (who became Becca and Tyler’s father) as a teenager, she never reconciled with them. Even though she doesn’t care to see them, she let’s her children go on a week long trip to meet Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) for the first time after being contacted by them online.
The film takes on the found footage genre from the perspective of aspiring documentarian Becca. Becca enlists the help of her rapper wanna-be brother as a camera operator during the week. As the days unfold, the two teenagers slowly realize that Nana and Pop Pop are a bit strange. While Pop Pop has incontinence and is forgetful, and Nana struggles with sun downing, there seems to be more there than “old people problems”.
The fun of the film is trying to unravel the mystery of what’s going on with Nana and Pop Pop with the kids. In fact, Shyamalan perfectly plays on our fears that we had as youngsters throughout the film. We wonder what the sound on the other side of the door is, but we’re afraid to investigate. We wonder what Pop Pop might be hiding or doing in the barn just like Tyler. We wonder why Nana wants Becca to climb into the oven and clean it. It’s our curiosity that puts us on the edge of our seat, right where Shyamalan wants us.
Always a visual storyteller, Shyamalan uses the entire frame to tell the story, placing the camera with purpose and forcing us to observe what the camera sees. He combines his technical use of the frame with going back and forth between comic, heartfelt, and utterly creepy moments in the film. Each emotion serves the other. We’re able to laugh after a scary scene, learn more about the characters during a sincere interview for the camera, and cover our eyes when things get scary after sunset. It all blends together into a uniquely told tale.
The cast and performances within the film are solid. Deanna Dunagan deserves a special mention as Nana. She steals almost every scene she’s in effortlessly by embracing the irrational and equally sincere sides of her character.
While the kids can be a little over-precocious at times, and the film asks us to turn a blind eye to some moments, it’s a great ride! Known for making surprised twists, this one sucks the air out of the theater, as the crowd I screened the film with could be heard collectively gasping. “The Visit” will have you sleeping with one eye open next time you visit the grands, as Shyamalan seems to be saying “don’t sleep on me!”