The Visit, a 2015 horror film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, will ensure you never take the long trip to visit your grandparents again. You’re welcome!
I used to hate going to stay at my nan’s house. Every major school holiday it would happen. My mum and dad would pack me up and send me off to the countryside for an entire week to hang out with a couple of boring old people who lived on a ramshackle farm in the middle of nowhere.
My nan and her husband lived in Shropshire among some of the most beautiful countryside the UK has to offer. Not that I gave a shit. I was 10.
There were giant stacks of hay bales to climb over, huge barns to run around in, ponies to gingerly feed sugarcubes to and broken down old tractors to sit inside and pretend to be Ellen Ripley from Aliens. Looking back now, this was fricking awesome and I genuinely treasure the memories and yada yada yada and all that crap. But at the time… well… again… I was 10. There were only four channels on the TV. I couldn’t contact my friends. I hated mucking out stables. All my toys were at my mum and dad’s. My grandparents had never heard of Roxette. It was a total drag.
I loved my nan though, she was lovely and I always felt safe there, even playing around the remote farmhouse and its acres of surrounding fields.
The Visit, a self-funded horror film released in 2015, takes this childhood rite of passage – being packed off on your own to spend time with your grandparents who live miles away – and does something that all the best horror movies do: takes a seemingly everyday occurrence (swimming, taking a shower, watching the television, Skyping) and makes it terrifying.
You will never go and visit your grandparents again. Don’t even be tempted. No it doesn’t matter if they sent you a nice birthday present or one of them has had a fall. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
The Visit came out of nowhere, and had at least two things going against it. Firstly, it’s yet another found-footage horror film. Secondly, it’s written and directed by everyone’s favourite butt-of-all-cinematic jokes, M. Night Shyamalan. Fucking heck, it’s a wonder ANYBODY saw this thing. Which is mainly why I’m writing about it now. The Visit is seriously excellent. All the things that may have initially worried you about seeing it only add to its greatness.
Central to the The Visit are 15 year-old Becca and 13 year-old Tyler, a brother and sister sent off by their mum to meet their estranged grandparents who they’ve never met before. Tyler is a wannabe rapper with a hygiene fixation. Becca is a wannabe filmmaker with self-esteem issues. Becca is making a documentary about the visit to their grandparents, which doubles as an investigation on why the relationship between their mum and their grandparents broke down. It’s the ‘documentary’ angle that gives weight to the movie’s found-footage conceit, and also allows it to cheat a little. Becca’s directing style is very formal. She respects mise-en-scène and namechecks various serious filmmakers who influence her style, so therefore many of the shots are well-composed and occasionally beautiful. This is something never explored before in a found-footage movie: what if the person behind the camera had aspirations to be Béla Tarr, rather than a shaking buffoon flailing around with an iPhone.
As the children become increasingly worried about their grandparents’ disturbing behaviour and are told that they shouldn’t leave their room after 9:30pm (‘Grandma rules’) Becca’s camera plays an integral part in capturing the evidence, which is shown back to their mom (played sympathetically by the awesome Kathryn Hahn) over Skype, who writes it off as them just being “old.” It’s this tension that plays out for the entire movie. These kids have never met these people before, they’ve never spent time with other old people, they aren’t aware of dementia or even mild eccentricities. They have no idea of what’s rational and and what isn’t, and for the most part neither do we.
As for M Night Shyamalan? The Visit is a complete revelation. Suddenly he feels like a genuinely exciting director again. I will now rush to his next movie. Apparently Shyamalan used his fee from directing the abysmal Will Smith shitfest After Earth to make this project. Imagine After Earth contributing something good to the world. It almost makes it worthwhile.
Here’s the other thing about The Visit that I haven’t mentioned, which may surprise you what with all the talk of dementia and vulnerable children… It’s funny as fuck. Shyamalan has done that very rare thing of managing to craft a genuinely hilarious yet terrifying horror-comedy. Much like 2014’s Housebound or Creep, The Visit is a low-key gem that constantly wrong-foots its audience with laugh-out-loud moments or sheer pant-ruining dread.
Of particular note in the chuckles department is Ed Oxenbould who plays the freestylin’, low-waisted jean wearing Tyler. He’s excellent. Whether executing some phenomenal off-the-cuff raps in an almost preternatural manner or trying to curb his bad language by replacing curse-words with the names of female singer-songwriters, his casting is one of the film’s most engaging leftfield choices. As Tyler lies on the ground screaming “Sarah McLachlan” after enduring one of the film’s most intensely frightening scenes, it’s a moment of tension-breaking oddness that typifies the strength of The Visit.
Character arcs are simple but satisfying, the children are totally engaging, the grandparents (played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) manage to balance all manner of complex layers that would spoil the film too much if I went into here and speaking of which… there is, of course, a twist. It would be trite to say that “the twist in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit is that it’s good” but it would also be true. However there’s also a genuine plot twist in the film, one that made my heart stop and brought my hands to my mouth for the remaining 15 minutes of its running time. Good work, Shyamalan! You shit me up good.
And if The Visit will stop just one parent from packing off their kids to visit their grandparents on their own then it will be totally worth it. 5/5