By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Considering that some of M. Night Shyamalan’s recent movies either bored me (After Earth) or simply bewildered me into hysterical laughter (The Happening), I had some serious qualms going into this film. The Visit marks the first collaboration between Shyamalan and Jason Blum (of Blumhouse Productions). Blumhouse has been responsible for a large amount of the horror movies and suspense thrillers that have played recently in theaters. Because Blumhouse has such a large mixed bag of both good and bad movies in their filmography, this collaboration only offered me a tad more hope that Shymalan’s latest could mark a return to form for the director who wowed audiences with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Well, I can now breathe a comfortable sigh of relief. It turns out that this new collaboration may have been what the doctor ordered. Well, it also definitely helps that Shyamalan has come up with an exciting and entertaining thriller that should renew faith in the writer/director’s talents and abilities.
In keeping in the Blumhouse tradition of horror, Shymalan’s latest film is of the found footage variety. Normally, I cringe at the thought of this overplayed style, but it actually works here and doesn’t really distract from the experience. To be perfectly honest, I would have been quite happy had the filmmakers gone with a more traditional cinematic presentation. However, since they felt the need to utilize this storytelling technique again, at least it doesn’t make the viewing unbearable like other movies which use this style quite heavy -handedly. The movie supposedly is an amateur film project for one of the lead characters, and “she” actually makes an effort in maintaining a certain integrity to the film’s production.
Olivia de Jonge stars as Rebecca Jamison, a teenager who dreams of becoming a professional filmmaker. Because of the estranged relationship between her mother (Kathryn Hahn) and her mother’s parents, Rebecca and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have never met their grandparents and would actually like to have a relationship with them. Rebecca and Tyler convince their mom to allow them to visit their grandparents while she goes away on vacation. Rebecca decides to film the meeting with their grandparents and the subsequent days they spend with them. Even though their initial meeting goes relatively well, the following days reveal that their grandparents may be hiding some dark and frightening secrets.
M. Night Shyamalan’s newest delivers tension and chills, and does so in a fun and mischievous way. The writer/director channels his playful inner child and gives his lead characters much heart. His inner child also makes for some witty and devilish horror gags. The mature filmmaker in Shyamalan keeps his story material grounded and isn’t afraid to take his story into realistically frightening territory. In light of recent news events (revealing them would spoil the surprises), I found a genuine relevance in Shyamalan’s story. The news is full of shocking and disturbing stories of this variety and their application here works well. The film is an effective slow burner that builds the suspense superbly and makes the tension so taut that it pays off beautifully in the end.
I must say that the two young leads really impressed me with their acting talents. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould deliver exceptional performances as Becca and Tyler. They both credibly portray brother and sister and share the right chemistry on screen. Oxenbould definitely steals several scenes with his natural talent for comedy. He brings a gregarious confidence and comic charm to his character. DeJonge brings more of an older, wiser soul to Becca who really is the heart of the film. As the mysterious and creepy grandparents, Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie balance macabre, comedy, and heart wonderfully. I also enjoyed seeing Kathryn Hahn in a role that not only utilizes her comedic charm well, but also shows how versatile she really is.
And I feel that this film really is a testament to how versatile a filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan can be. Film buffs know he can pull off horror and suspense, but this movie gives his audiences a better look at his comedic side. I know he has had some recent missteps, but I strongly encourage my readers to forget about those for now and go see The Visit. It seems that Shyamalan has gotten his groove back and I’m glad Blumhouse has given him an opportunity to shine again.