Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Olivia DeJong, Ed Oxenbould, Kathryn Hahn
Watch The Visit online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
M. Night Shyamalan is flavour of the month again, with his return to form in James McAvoy thriller Split. But his return to form arguably came two years ago, with low-key oddity The Visit. The film follows two young kids as they go to visit their grandparents. The catch? They have to go to bed at 9.30pm every night. And they can’t ever go in the basement.
A curfew might not sound strange, but that’s not taking into account what it’s like to be a teenager, when bedtime is bottom of the list of priorities. For Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and 13-year-old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), it’s unusual enough to annoy – but also to spike their curiosity. Weird noises at night, even weirder flashes of behaviour from Nana, and Pop Pop’s unconvincing attempts to dismiss their questions only spark more intrigue. But what if the vomiting, the screaming, the forgetfulness are all just, as he says, consequences of old age?
It’s easy to forget how alien the elderly can seem when you’re young. From their smell to their failing bodies, they can sometimes seem far from relatives you know, or once knew. As you age yourself, that gap disappears, but Shyamalan plants his feet firmly in that naive limbo, a time of grim fairytales and nocturnal spooks, and refuses to budge. That uneasy territory is a source of tension, but also, notably, of humour. This is the funniest Shyamalan movie to date – indeed, you get the sense that the director is trying to tread new ground, not just in the significantly smaller budget than his blockbuster missteps. A partnership with producer Jason Blum only seems to boost his confidence, and, under the eye of the low-budget horror veteran, the director uses this different approach to quietly return to old strengths – most notably, his ability to spot talent in unknown actors (the biggest name is Transparent’s Kathryn Hahn as their mum, who appears via Skype) and coax them to deliver on his carefully balanced tone.
The found footage format might be all-too-familiar for horror fans, but it’s new for him – and you can feel the fun Shyamalan is having with it. That fun permeates everything, from Ed Oxenbould’s laugh-out-loud freestyle raps to the swift pace that squeezes the deceptively simple narrative into a 94-minute runtime. Compare it to the countless clones of Paranormal Activity and The Visit stands out in a crowded genre – and that’s an achievement in itself.
The result sparks with new creative inspiration from the storyteller who gave us The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Where once the filmmaker had Mark Wahlberg tackling a global, supernatural happening, here, he has two children being forced to sit down and play Yahtzee. It says a lot that the latter is more exciting. Shyamalan specialises in exploring the line between the ordinary and the extraordinary, and The Visit strips away any distractions to focus solely on that divide – a divide that he gently equates with the age gap (and emotional gap) between the fully-rounded members of a dysfunctional, estranged family. With Split now building on that success, The Visit is a reminder that bigger isn’t always better. It’s far from classic, but it’s am absolute hoot. And after The Last Airbender and After Earth, that’s a very welcome twist.