I enjoy horror movies, particularly the disgusting and gory kind. Supernatural films are the ones that affect me, for some reason, but I also enjoy the third type – one that maybe features a little of the other two, but with a psychological or more realistic focus. A drama-horror, or thriller-horror. The Visit is a horror movie type all of its own – I laughed a lot at this movie, and that’s not a criticism.
It involved kids, which would usually drive me away from it, but in this case made the story more involving, and gives it a lot of its humour. It actually attempts to have a (sort of) legitimate reason for everything being filmed. And most of all, the horror behind it all reflects real-life issues, as opposed to ghosts/undead murdering psychopaths/a combination of the two.
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan – yes, he of The Sixth Sense – the film sees film student Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and her rapper brother (yes, rapper) Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) go to visit grandparents they’ve never met, so that their single mum (Kathryn Hahn) can go on holiday. On meeting the grandparents (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie), the kids become aware they aren’t what they expected, and before long it all starts getting pretty weird.
The Visit is so unlike anything Shyamalan has done before, in that there are very few characters, a lot of comedy, and a real feeling of tautness. I think a major part of this is that the story deals with the very childish notion of old people being weird, and creepy, and this is exacerbated excellently throughout. We all worry about our grandparents, and fear getting old ourselves, so some of what concerns the kids is totally understandable (when I say some, I mean some), and this is clever, as you’re expecting some things to happen that don’t.
The wintry, snow-bound setting adds a sense of isolation, which builds and adds to the tension. In turn, the use of music within the film as opposed to a score (always sensible when using found-footage as your gimmick) is sparingly but well used. None of the acting is going to win awards, but you have to give credit to Dunagan and McRobbie for what they do in their roles as the grandparents, and for sadly (and graphically) illustrating the ravages of time on older peoples’ minds. Hahn, who I’ve only ever seen in comedies, does a difficult job well (she appears on Skype for most of the film), but I couldn’t take her seriously in the more dramatic parts. For kids in a movie however, DeJonge and Oxenbould are really quite good – and this perhaps speaks to the writing of the movie as well.
Both are witty, cocky, obnoxious either on their own or with each other, and at the same time normal enough to be emotionally concerned by what’s going on. Tyler’s rapper nonsense is simultaneously awkward and hilarious, and the audience I saw the film with clearly thought the same. But this is just one of the many things that makes the film unique; it’s not afraid to be a bit eccentric and hilarious at the right (and sometimes wrong) times.
It makes the kids feel more like normal young people, because young people are capable of being odd and funny. It makes the terror and their sense of fear tangible as well. There are cliches of course, and some of these are made worse by being found-footage cliches – you wouldn’t keep a camera on in certain situations, particularly if you’re a teenage kid. Also, one sub-plot tries to bring some dramatic heft to the movie, and while at times it has a point, I felt in the end that it was pointless (and completely forgotten when the film starts to conclude).
I admit the film is slight, and it isn’t going to be a revelation for most people. It also uses the infuriating daily structure beloved by the found-footage genre – yes, we get it, everything’s going to kick off on this day so let’s slowly build towards it. But I liked it and respected it for trying to be a little less conventional – it’s definitely a horror-comedy, though the last act goes to a place that’s both uncomfortable if transgressive (how often are kids actually at peril in horror films!). There isn’t much gore or violence, but there are a lot of unsettling scares instead; and more so for the fact that nobody’s a flipping ghost for once. You feel uncertain of what the “rules” might be when it comes to what’s going to happen.