M. Night Shyamalan | 90 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / PG-13
After a sidestep into big-budget director-for-hire movies that brought him even less acclaim than his last couple of self-penned efforts, once-fêted director M. Night Shyamalan goes back to basics with this low-key found-footage horror.
When their mother (Kathryn Hahn) goes on holiday with her new partner, teens Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) go to stay with her parents, who she hasn’t seen or spoken to for years. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) seem kindly, but no one will tell the kids what happened years earlier to leave the family estranged. But soon they discover the strange, disturbing behaviour of their grandparents, particularly after dark, leaving them to wonder just what they’ve let themselves in for…
Although Shyamalan has always moved in supernatural circles in his movies, and The Sixth Sense is labelled a horror because it’s about ghosts and has a few jumps, he’s not really directed a proper Horror movie before now. Nonetheless, it’s not surprising that his skill set lends itself to the genre. Although the found-footage format is a little forced at times (isn’t it always?), it’s also used effectively to create some nailbiting sequences, putting you alongside the kids as they fear just what the hell is going in. And some of it is pretty darn freaky. One sequence — a demented game of hide-and-seek underneath the house, where we’re aware of stuff going on behind the kids that they don’t see — is particularly terrifying.
DeJonge and Oxenbould make for naturalistic kids, with the latter’s affinity for rapping providing some necessary levity, while McRobbie and Dunagan (in a particularly bold performance) well negotiate people who can be sweetness and light one moment and blood-chillingly terrifying at another.
Of course, there’s a big reveal to explain everything that’s been going. People call it a “twist” because it’s a Shyamalan movie, but it’s more of an explanation. I mean, what was going on had to be explained somehow, and the explanation comes at the point where you’d expect the explanation to be. I’m not saying it’s not a twist, because it does change what you think you’ve been seeing, but it’s also not a be-all-and-end-all kind of failed-rug-pull, which Shyamalan’s worst twist-obsessed efforts have been. This one works. Or, it did for me.
The same can be said for the film as a whole. The Visit doesn’t quite represent a full-blown return to form — it’s not got the sophistication of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, or even Signs — but it is an immensely effective scarer, which suggests there’s still some hope for Shyamalan’s flatlining career.