Saying that M. Night Shyamalan's latest film offers an improvement over his most recent efforts isn't really saying much. After impressing with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and a little less so with Signs and The Village, the likes of Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth won the writer/director few kind words. The Visit seems to fall somewhere in the middle; however, in plodding towards his usual twist and doing so with a clumsy blend of shocks and laughs, it soon proves closer to his latter work than his former.
Fifteen-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her thirteen-year-old younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) take the trip of the movie's title, leaving their single mother (Kathryn Hahn) for a week with the estranged grandparents they've never before met. Upon arriving at the remote farm their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) call home, the siblings find their elders a little odd, but are reassured that their eccentricities stem from their advanced age. When even stranger occurrences start happening at night, Becca and Tyler are convinced that something else is going on.
To complicate what becomes little more than kids simply being spooked by creepy old people, pseudo fairytale-style, Shyamalan throws the current horror movie trend — found footage — into the mix. Accordingly, The Visit is presented as a documentary being shot by wannabe filmmaker Becca, with Tyler assisting with the camerawork when he's not rapping in front of the lens.
Shyamalan's found footage effort is not a slapdash attempt to capitalise upon the current fondness for a certain subgenre of film — at least as far as the actual found footage conceit is concerned. The director never abandons his approach, and even weaves the consequences of a constantly rolling camera into the story. Expect bit players performing because they know they're being watched, just as Tyler does. Don't expect shots from angles that can't be justified in the narrative, just because they look cool.
Alas, around the well-executed and committed stylistic gimmick sits cliche and a veering tone that colours everything that happens. Attempted frights are easily foreseen in the shadowy Hansel and Gretel-like offering, though thankfully Shyamalan's love of the supernatural never rears its head. The predictability of the script certainly inspires much of the guffawing that will echo around the cinema, though many of the feature's gags are intentional.
Making a good horror-comedy is as difficult a feat as mastering found footage, but The Visit doesn't succeed in the first instance. Giggling at, not with, the film, feels like the more frequent outcome as bodily functions are mined for humour alongside the naked elderly form. And with the jump scares few and far between, comic moments aren't quite being used to diffuse tension.
Australians DeJonge and Oxenbould try hard to wade through the wavering mood, turning in playful performances that brighten up the standard story, but being asked to spout dialogue about filmmaking technique doesn't do their characters any favours. Still, to say that the duo ranks alongside Shyamalan's handling of found footage as the feature's highlights is accurate — although, in the context of the complete movie, that's once again not saying much.
Want to live near this spot?
Check out our handy Neighbourhood Guides to find out how you can.