M. Night Shyamalan returns with a new film. Long ago that would've reason enough for considerable hype and pent-up anticipation. Nowadays his films are considered a success if they aren't tossed aside after their first week in theater (if they get there at all). The popular narrative is that it all went downhill after Unbreakable, each film worse than the one before. Personally I don't subscribe to that narrative, I like Shyamalan best when he's mixing horror and fantasy with some tongue in cheek thrown in for good measure. I consider Lady in the Water and The Happening to be his best films, so I was more than happy to see that The Visit was somewhat revisiting that territory.
The Visit is not your run of the mill found footage horror (and not because it's actually a faux documentary, I'm not that pedantic). Sure enough, most (if not all) of the footage is coming from a handycam operated by a little documentary director to be, but it never actually feels like it wants to be part of that niche. It feels more like a traditional horror film, with some slight 80s influences (mostly because the film is told from the perspective of two teens) and a stronger focus on the mysterious, rather than going for some quick jump scares.
The film follows Becca (15) and Tyler (13), who're on their way to visit their grandparents. Their mother ran away from home before they were born and this marks the first time they're going to see their grandma and grandpa. Becca is handy with a camera and decides to turn the trip into a documentary, hoping to uncover what happened on that faithful day when her mom eloped (and ultimately, to bring the family back together). Meanwhile, mom goes on a welcome holiday with her newest lover.
While the trip starts off well, it soon dawns on Becca and Tyler that their grandparents are a little odd. Grandma walks around at night and suffers from sundown syndrome while grandpa turns out to be incontinent, hiding his "little accidents" in the shed. Things get increasingly weirder though and what started as a fun and exciting trip is quickly turning into a restless nightmare.
Shyamalan includes a few jump scares and a few classic horror build-ups, but ultimately aims at a different kind of horror. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie shine as nana and pop pop, portraying two elderly people who are strange, a little creepy, but ultimately just old and alien-looking in the eyes of the two teens. This fear of ageing is what keeps the tension strong and lingering, even when Shyamalan throws around some goofy and quirky bits left and right (Jerry the police man being my favorite).
Yes, there is a little twist at the end and yes, it will make a second viewing a somewhat different experience, but in contrast to films like Signs, The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, there is more to The Visit than just the twist. It's a strong mix of horror, tension and tongue in cheek fun. It's creepy when it needs to be, it's funny when it wants to be. The only point of critique I have is that the middle part is a little too slow due to some mediocre attempts at additional drama. Instead I would've preferred a little extra grandma and grandpa time.
The Visit is not a film that will appeal to the masses. It doesn't have the big twist, it's not laden with jump scares and there aren't any vampires or demons to spruce things up. On the other hand, it makes The Visit a unique experience that stands as one of the better, if not the best Shyamalan film I've seen so far. It's not an easy film to blindly recommend, but it's sure worth a try if you're in for a little gamble.