It should be no surprise that many audience members went to watch writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” with little to no expectations of it being even close to good. I, personally, went in with the expectation of it being one of the worst movies of the year. A found-footage film about two young teens visiting their grandparents for a week sounds strange enough, but when written by the man who also wrote “Devil” and “The Last Airbender,” it pretty much begs to be a disaster. And yet, “The Visit” managed to surprise us all. It was actually okay.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Shyamalan’s foray into found-footage horror à la “The Blair Witch Project” or “Paranormal Activity” isn’t the typical, cliché-filled, plot hole-riddled mess that his latest films have proven themselves to be. The scary moments are hilariously predictable — so much so that you can almost do a little mental countdown just waiting for them to happen. The twist is teased one too many times, leaving the audience just wanting to know what’s in the basement already. And of course, once you really think about it, there are some obvious problems with the plot once the twist is finally revealed.
Interestingly enough, though, “The Visit” comes with its own little meta-twist — Shyamalan is becoming frighteningly self-aware. He knows that the audience is expecting a last minute cop-out of a twist. In fact, he knows that we recognize every single Shyamalan-brand cliché, along with the usual trappings of the found-footage style, and sets out to turn our perception of said clichés completely on its head.
The film presents the audience with several possible twists only to completely avoid them, which isn’t creative and could be seen as shoddy writing. Yet, for Shyamalan’s standards, this is absolute genius.
At the very least, “The Visit” doesn’t turn out to be some sort of alien or monster plot, and is more human than Shyamalan film viewers would ever expect. Best of all, while the scary moments of the film are predictable, they are genuinely frightening. The magic in it isn’t necessarily the “when,” but more of the “how,” and that makes all the difference.
Another high point of the film, which also serves as an example of how it plays with its own expected clichés, is the acting. Protagonists Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are prime examples of when someone has no idea how modern-day teenagers behave. Becca, 15, is a pseudo-indie Hermione Granger and her brother Tyler, supposedly 13, wears his jeans down low and raps.
While the rapping and prepubescent machismo of one sibling combined with the forcibly mature attitude of the other will make your eyes roll so far back they’ll get lost in your brain, Shyamalan manages to twist even that. The kids’ attitudes are fronts, hiding their very adult insecurities. While this is an almost overused character device, it was still touching, charming and a little more profound than what would have been expected from a Shyamalan horror flick.
The same can’t be said for the villains, though. Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan) are perfectly unnerving and suspicious, which is fitting for horror movie villains. However, their attempts at killing the children fall nothing short of cartoonish, and it’s obvious that they aren’t what they seem from the very beginning.
Despite all that, “The Visit” manages to be fairly okay. It may not be the best horror film created in a while, yet it is quite possibly the best movie that the director has done in some time. And maybe that was the biggest Shyamalan twist all along.