Is it a cue to get out of the cinema if you were laughing instead of trying to cover your eyes while watching a horror movie? No, not really.
But then again, who would expect a horror movie to be funny? It was only until I watched M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” that I realised that it was exactly the kind of horror movie that will make me laugh, in a good way.
“The Visit” is not a straight-up horror film as it leans more towards the comedic side. It is about a brother and sister who discover their grandparents’ odd and disturbing behaviours when they stay in the old couple’s remote Pennsylvania farm for a week-long trip. And when we say “odd and disturbing”, it involves their Nana laughing by herself in the living room and their Pop Pop “cleaning” his gun with his mouth almost wrapped around the barrel.
There are more messed-up scenes in this film, but we won’t tell you in detail. All we can say is that they may leave you temporarily traumatised. However, all thanks to the iconic Shyamalan twist, “The Visit” is really nothing more than just a dark comedy in disguise.
“The Visit” is a real slow burner because the first half of the movie didn’t really show us anything peculiar about the grandparents.
The entire movie was filmed in home movie-cum-documentary style as the sister, Becca (portrayed by newcomer Olivia DeJonge), is an aspiring filmmaker. She plans a documentary of the week-long visit to the grandparents’ isolated farm in hopes to heal old wounds between them and her mother (portrayed by “Parks and Recreation” actress Kathryn Hahn), who hasn’t spoken to them after she ran off to marry a teacher when she was 17-year-old.
As the father has abandoned the family, both Becca and her brother, Tyler (portrayed by “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” star Ed Oxenbould), are determined to cultivate family connections through this visit.
The siblings have never seen their grandparents before, but their mother did vaguely tell them how they would look like. Thus, the two are tres excited when they’ve finally met their Nana and Pop Pop, treating them like the nicest grandparents ever. Even when they discovered oddities, they convinced themselves that their grandparents are just old and confused.
While his character is a little obnoxious, Oxenbould succeeded at bringing dark humour through his role as the annoying rapper wannabe brother. There were, of course, plenty of cringe-worthy moments from Oxenbould’s character, but it’s all good by the end of the film.
On the other hand, DeJonge’s portrayal of Becca was slightly stiff. Fortunately, there was progress in her performance as her character developed to becoming more than just being an aspiring filmmaker later in the film.
The movie was initially titled “Sundowning”, a psychological phenomenon where patients experience increased confusion and restlessness with some form of dementia. It often results in agitation and mood swings.
In this case, the siblings’ grandparents might be experiencing the worst kind of Sundowning.
Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie excelled at portraying their respective roles as the grandparents onscreen because they are truly the scariest grandparents we’ve ever seen.
Most of the time, Dunagan’s character is calm and collective. She is a real sweetheart and treats her grandkids like Hansel and Gretel by baking cookies for them almost on a daily basis. But as the kids grow more comfortable with their Nana, she creeps us out with her strange behaviour and we’re not even sure if she was possessed by a demon or just simply acting weird.
The same goes to their Pop Pop. He is a quiet and reserved man, but when the film hits the climax, he cranked things up to over-the-top crazy levels on a dime.
Shyamalan does a pretty decent job at building suspense and scares through the eyes of the children in “The Visit”. It’s a good thing that he’s uninterested in throwing tonnes of jump scares in it. Instead, he built up terror purely out of weirdness.
Overall, is this Shyamalan’s comeback film? Definitely. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t call it his best film ever. It’s a baby step, nonetheless. We sure hope that Shyamalan doesn’t get lost in the genre again.
Scheduled for release on 19th September 2015, “The Visit” was produced by Shyamalan and Jason Blum, the producer of “Insidious” and “The Purge“. Mark Bienstock, Steven Schneider, and Ashwin Rajan serve as the executive producers.