M. Night Shyamalan says in an interview (Bill Desowitz of “Thompson on Hollywood”) that The Visit will be his comeback film. It could very well be. I was pleasantly/scarily surprised at its force and power to engage the audience on many different levels. Along with Shyamalan’s work in writing and directing, much of its appeal is owed to the two young actors, Ed Oxenbould and Olivia Delonge, who are phenomenal.
They’re both precocious—and are supposed to be in their roles—which could have sounded like children mouthing words written by adults. But these two look like they had come up with the lines themselves. Olivia’s character, Becca, throws out phrases like, “We don’t know their temperaments or proclivities” and “Don’t touch it; let it organically swing”, plus many technical terms of movie-making (she’s filming a documentary of hers and Tyler’s visit to their grandparents); and Tyler can rap, sounding a lot like Eminem. He also had a wicked sense of humor.
The film is a delightful combination of horror and comedy, so the story effectively swings smoothly back and forth between the two moods, with some tenderness and warm feelings mixed in. Their mother (Hahn) left home when she was 19 to be with an older man, much to her parents’ dismay, and they have not communicated in the 15 years since. Now the mother is single, and badly in need of a vacation with her beau. The kids have never met their grandparents, and they are eager to go and want to give their mother some adult time. So it’s agreeable to everyone concerned.
The initial time with the grandparents is mixed; Nana is a great cook, and Pop Pop is good natured and helpful. Aging signs are obvious, which the kids can understand, but eventually things start getting really bizarre, and you wonder what will happen to them by the end of their week’s stay. This is a horror movie after all.
The script is intelligent in setting up information for later scenes. For instance, there is an account of eight year-old Tyler standing frozen during a football game when he is supposed to be making an easy tackle. Toward the end of the film, you see him standing as if frozen, and you remember the previous account. A theme about holding onto anger and not forgiving comes up in the beginning and at the end with two characters.
Filming techniques used to enhance the eeriness of the story include dark scenes with mysterious or alarming sounds, Becca’s hand-hand video camera, and her documentary pictures, which sometimes serve as “found footage.” Finally, I really like the sudden twist at the end, which some have found fault with, but I thought was a perfect conclusion, once again set up in earlier scenes, but not really preparing you.
Final Thought: A good horror film with refreshing humor and clever characters.