Starring Olivia De Jonge, Ed Oxenbould, Kathryn Hahn, Deanna Dunagan
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
The Visit is the first horror movie in a long time from M. Night Shyamalan. And it’s the first horror movie in a week from Blumhouse. The titans have teamed up for an oddly intriguing mishmash of their signature styles. Kids, suspense, and the twist from Shyamalan; jump scares, found-footage, and a bitty budget from Blumhouse. The two mesh remarkably well.
Rebecca Jamison (Olivia De Jonge) is a 15-year-old wannabe Michael Apted-style documentarian, and her little brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), is determined to be the next Eminem. They’ve grown up pretty much obligated to provide their own entertainment, as there’s no father in the picture, and as a consequence Mom (Kathryn Hahn) works all the time to make ends meet. Becca wants to explore these dynamics through her lens – The Visit starts off with an on-camera interview with her mother about her upbringing and gets off and running when Becca and Tyler go off alone to visit their faraway and never-before-met grandparents to get their side of the Jamison family story. Their stay is supposed to last a week… if they live that long.
At first, the isolated farmhouse of their mother’s youth is a source of wonder and amusement. Everything is just as Mom described it – from the swing in the big tree to the grandfather clock in the hallway. But she didn’t mention to the kids that Granny (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie) are certifiably insane and have an arsenal of axes, butcher’s knives, and double-barreled shotguns that they just love to play with.
Of course, the evil elderlies don’t whip out the sharp and pointies right off the bat. At first, they just seem a little senile and perhaps not entirely in control of their actions. Curiosity gets the better of the kids when they’re relegated to their shared bedroom at 9:30 PM each night and told not to come out until morning. They hear weird things going on outside in the hall… what could it be?
The Visit is imbued with suspense, puzzles, and even a little hair-raising horror. But it’s mostly a dark comedy, and at times it veers into the ridiculous – like when Granny asks Gretel, er, I mean Becca, to hop inside the oven. Not once, but twice. And Becca does it, not once but twice. Gratuitous gross-out moments veer into unwanted Tom Green territory when Tyler runs afoul of Pop-Pop’s dirty diaper.
All the actors are excellent (if over-the-top at times), but the kids ultimately steal the show. Their characters go through a gamut and a gauntlet of emotions, and they glide through with aplomb. Oxenbould is the comic relief, and he’s wonderfully watchable (not to mention quotable).
The Visit is one of Shyamalan’s better films of recent years (I know… that’s not saying much), and it’s about as entertaining as half the horror movies I’ve seen this year. The Shyamalan shell game is much in evidence, especially when the twisteroo comes, and it’s devilishly delightful… until the end credits roll and you think back over all the plot holes. But that’s okay – while it’s rolling, it’s a ride.