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New Release Review - THE VISIT

A pair of kids spend a week with their terrifying grandparents.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: M Night Shyamalan

Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Kathryn Hahn, Peter McRobbie




"The movie manages to juggle several moods without ever feeling tonally confused. It's funny, it's scary, and in its exploration and exploitation of senility, it's at times deeply upsetting. Shyamalan reminds us he never lost confidence in his abilities, even if we did. Shame on us."





If you're a regular reader, you'll no doubt be as sick of our moaning about found footage horror movies as we are of watching the damn things. At this point, reviews of found footage flicks pretty much write themselves, thanks to the frequent employment of the aesthetic as little more than a gimmick, an all too convenient way of covering up a filmmaker's lack of creativity. It's rare that established filmmakers take on the sub genre, with Barry Levinson and George A Romero two notable exceptions, but now we have M Night Shyamalan, possibly the most derided director working in mainstream film today, giving it a shot. And it's a success; his finest creation since The Sixth Sense earned him a reputation he's struggled to live up to since.
Initially it seems we're in familiar territory, as we're being presented with footage from a documentary. But hold on; this doc is being authored by a 15 year old girl, Rebecca (Olivia De Jonge), who is intent on finding out the reason why her mother, Paula (Kathryn Hahn), fell out with her parents and hasn't spoken to them for 15 years. Deciding it's finally time her kids met their 'Nana' and 'Pop Pop', Paula sends Rebecca and 13 year old Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) off for a week long stay with the oldies.
Upon arrival in their grandparents' small midwestern town, all seems fine. Grandpa Doris (Deanna Dunagan) brings some yummy home-baked cookies, and Grandpa John (Peter McRobbie) seems like a kindly old duffer. There are two rules the kids must obey however - don't leave their room after 9.30pm and don't go in the basement. As the week rolls on, it becomes disturbingly clear why these rules are in place.
Poor old M Night has been unfairly maligned in recent years. The truth is, his recent work has been awful due to his limitations as a writer. As he proves with The Visit, he's still one of the best directors around, one who understands how to get the best from a found footage movie. More importantly, he understands the limitations of the format, and employs them in his favour. The biggest problem with first person filmmaking is the inability to create suspense. For suspense to exist, the audience needs to be one step ahead of the protagonist, and this isn't possible when we're viewing the movie through their eyes. The form of storytelling found footage is most compatible with is mystery, keeping us in the dark along with the protagonist, and that's what Shyamalan gives us here.
Adopting a similar structure to the original Paranormal Activity (a rare found footage movie that found a way of creating suspense by filming its protagonists as they slept), The Visit is all about the sanctuary of daylight and the terrors of night. Shyamalan cleverly outlines the structure of his film by immediately informing us of the length of the kids' titular visit. This means we know just how many night-time sequences are still to come, and with each one growing more sinister than the last, by the final night we're a bundle of nerves.
For a movie of this nature to work, the cast needs to be on point, and the central quartet deliver four fantastic performances, in particular De Jonge, who is given much of the heavy lifting. A rare diversion from the terror sees her break down when her brother questions her lack of self worth, brought on by their father's exit; it's an uncomfortable yet beautifully played moment, one that reminds you that at his best, Shyamalan is capable of Spielbergian bursts of humanity. Conversely, the presence of a recognisable face like Hahn is somewhat distracting, and her skype appearances have an almost fourth wall breaking effect, but that's pretty much my only gripe with the film.
The movie manages to juggle several moods without ever feeling tonally confused. It's funny (a moment with Grandpa and a shotgun is one of the biggest and blackest laughs of the year), it's scary, and in its exploration and exploitation of senility, it's at times deeply upsetting, a graphic reminder of what lies ahead for most of us.
Despite putting us through the ringer in a nail-biting final act, Shyamalan ends the film, as Hitchcock so often liked to, on a comic note. It's a ballsy move that might sink a lesser movie, but Shyamalan pulls it off, reminding us that he never lost confidence in his abilities, even if we did. Shame on us.



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