The Visit September 15, 2015
Most critics are touting 2015’s The Visit as one-hit-wonder M. Night Shyamalan’s (The Sixth Sense) return to form, while the Debbie Downers consider it to be a minor piece of horror comedy simply better than his past few projects. As a Shyamalan virgin (I have yet to see Haley Joel Osment indelibly proclaim his sightings of the dead), I bear little knowledge of his films besides the fact that his biggest allies applaud him for his De Palmian plot twists. And that his last few films (After Earth, The Last Airbender) have tanked so ferociously that a return to form never even seemed like a possibility to begin with.
So I suppose I’m the best kind of audience for a film like The Visit. With no films to compare it to, I have less in common with my critical idols and more with the gobs of middle schoolers that packed the theater during the 7 p.m. showing I attended last night.
Everyone in the theater was there to see a horror show that looked decent in the trailers, not to snarkily see whether Shyamalan would present us with another The Happening or not. Based on my embarrassing inability to keep myself from laughing during its lighter moments or hide behind my jacket sleeve throughout its freakier stretches, I can confidently say that The Visit is one of my favorite horror films of the 2010s.
Immediately, we assume it must be a comedy of sorts when a single mother (Kathryn Hahn) sends her two precocious children, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and Becca (Olivia DeJorge), by train to meet the grandparents they never got to know growing up. Becca, coming of age ever so quickly, is an amateur documentarian that decides it would be delicious to film the week long stay in its entirety. Tyler, a hilarious-but-not-trying-to-be wannabe 13-year-old rapper, seems to only have interest in teasing Becca and filling himself up with Grandma's scrumptious baked goods.
The kids have a snappy rapport (and are perfectly cast; Oxenbould is a child actor deserving of endless praise for his delightful performance) and their fish-out-of-water situation leaves room for laughs aplenty. And we get them. Until things begin looking increasingly strange.
Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop (Peter McRobbie) seem nice enough at first, but it doesn’t take long before Tyler and Becca start to notice that their behavior is more than just eccentric. Nana frequently demands that Becca climb all the way into the oven for simple “cleanup”, flagging our suspicions that she may actually want to bake her into a Thanksgiving Day treat. Pop spends an abominable amount of time in the woodshed; Nana wanders the halls in the dead of night vomiting with the gleeful abandon of Linda Blair in The Exorcist and scurrying around the floor like a possessed puppy. The grandchildren are told to never go down into the basement. Cheap excuses are thrown left and right, with Skype calls from Mom hardly providing comfort; but what’s at first cutely alarming becomes alarmingly alarming.
Being the foolish horror movie kids that they are, Tyler and Becca of course do manage to make their way into the oven more than a few times, to see what the hell’s actually in the woodshed, to open their bedroom door as Nana delivers one of her horrifying late-night performances, to travel into that godforsaken basement. Yet for all its clichés, The Visit is a winning horror movie, giddy until things get too scary to continue giggling about.
Shyamalan, writing and directing, keeps guffaws coming while also increasing the malevolence of the atmosphere. Scoreless and prone to marking the calendar day with wintery nature stills with a blood red date defiantly stamped across, we know something terrible's bound to happen but will hardly accept it because things are kept so humorous.
We could make for a perfect sitcom audience most of the time — even the jump-scares are tinged with campy ticklishness — if only it weren’t for the disturbing ending that, yes, oh yes, delivers the Shyamalan Twist.
Perhaps I’m the minority around these parts — The Visit currently holds a shockingly low 63 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes — but this is a horror film for the ages, totally original and totally unafraid to be brashly idiosyncratic in the face of all those Paranormal Activity sequels. It’s a blast, a gem to be taken seriously. A-