Watching M Night Shyamalan’s found footage horror comedy “The Visit” is a hell of a lot of fun—sitting in the theater I was transfixed, exhilarated and giddy with excitement the whole time. Shyamalan cuts loose, making a hilarious, twisted horror film that also manages to be clever and suspenseful. Additionally, the film treads on simplicity— the action is primarily confined to a secluded farmhouse wherein two kids are spending a week with their mysterious grandparents. There’s no CGI, while gross out and jump scares are minimal and therefore effective.
Adolescent Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her little brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are making a family documentary. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) ran away from home at a young age and hasn’t spoken to her parents since. The parents reach out to her, asking for the grand kids (whom they’ve never met) to spend a week with them at their farm. She agrees and off Becca and Tyler go. Before long however, strange things start to happen and it’s clear that something’s wrong with Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie).
Perhaps the best thing about “The Visit” is Shyamalan recognizes that elderly people can be both immensly scary and over the top funny. In a horror film, since elders are inherently weird (they’re paranoid, prone to memory loss, getting past events mixed up in the present and other mental conditions) if they do something out of the ordinary it’s perceived as ordinary, making them appear harmless even if they might be highly dangerous. At the same time, that very same weirdness also makes them an easy comedic target. Think of Grandpa Simpson and his tendency to tell long rambling stories or confuse objects for other objects on “The Simpsons.”
Shyamalan plays on this horror/comedy symmetry extremely well by making Nana and Pop Pop’s behavior overly cartoonish and exaggerated. “Last night I saw Nana violently scratching at a closet door while naked and growling!” …”Oh, that’s nothing. Typical goofy old person behavior!” This results in a near perfect blend of comedy and horror. An imminent sense of danger lurks throughout the picture yet you can't stop laughing at the absurdity of the situation and Nana and Pop Pop’s actions. It also makes the movie utterly unpredictable at every turn. As the grandparents’ behavior becomes increasingly erratic and unusual you get the feeling that anything (horrific or comedic) can happen.
Shyamalan conveys all of this madness and absurdity from an innocent, childlike point of view. Becca and Tyler’s sibling bond is well established (their affectionate ribbing registers as authentic) and they come off as authentic children: likable and curious, while at the same time annoyingly naive. They make their fair share of stupid decisions which, as a movie watcher can be frustrating, but then again they’re just kids. Their level of experience isn’t very high. Overall “The Visit” has a deranged, twisted, fairy tale feel. Even references to “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” are present throughout the narrative.
There’s plenty more I could discuss with “The Visit” but I would rather leave that for you to discover--you’re in for a wild and unpredictable ride. Shyamalan hasn’t exactly had a great film career as of late but this latest comedy/horror outing marks a step in the right direction.