Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan
Tag line: "No one loves you like your grandparents"
Trivia: This was M. Night Shyamalan's lowest budgeted studio feature film
Alright, I’m just gonna say it: The Visit scared the hell out of me.
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, this 2015 movie follows brother and sister Rebecca and Tyler Jamison (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) as they journey to a small Pennsylvania town to spend a week with their estranged grandparents. Their mother Paula (Kathryn Hahn) had left home 15 years earlier to marry the kids’ father, a man her parents didn’t approve of, and she hasn’t spoken to either of them since. Even after the marriage fell apart (he left her for another woman, and now lives in California), Paula stubbornly refused to reconcile with her mother and father. Then, out of the blue, they contact her, asking if they could meet their grandchildren. So, after saying their goodbyes, Rebecca and Tyler climb aboard a train and are off to spend time with an elderly couple they’ve never met before.
After greeting them at the train station, their grandparents, who they call Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie), drive Rebecca and Tyler to the remote farmhouse that’s been their home since Paula was a small child. A novice filmmaker, Rebecca brought along several cameras to document their visit, and at first things seem to go very well. Once the sun goes down, however, Nana becomes a different person altogether, roaming the halls in the nude and acting as if she’s a wild animal. Pop-Pop tries to allay the kids fears, telling them that Nana suffers from a rare medical condition that only affects her at night, but when things go from bad to worse, and pop-pop also starts acting strangely, the youngsters find themselves wondering just how dangerous their grandparents truly are.
There are a few things about The Visit you should know going in. For one, it’s a found footage horror film: while making her documentary, Rebecca’s cameras capture the events as they spin out of control. Also, the kids are dealing with abandonment issues (due to their father’s leaving), and have strong personalities (Rebecca is very intelligent, and talks as if she’s swallowed a Thesaurus; while Tyler considers himself a hip-hop artist, and raps on more than one occasion). Yet none of the above detracts from the horror that Shyamalan slowly unleashes on his audience. In fact, thanks to the excellent performances delivered by the two youngsters, I came to like Rebecca and Tyler, and as a result my fears for their safety grew more intense with each passing scene.
Yet it’s Deanna Dunagan’s turn as Nana that makes The Visit so damn terrifying. Though told to stay in their room after 9:30 p.m., the kids do, on occasion, wander out after that time (for various reasons), and the first night, Rebecca spots Nana vomiting profusely while walking around downstairs. Pop-pop tells Rebecca that Nana had contracted a 24-hour virus, but that doesn’t explain her behavior the second night. With Nana close by, even a simple game of hide-and-seek can be horrifying experience, and the scene where she asks Rebecca to climb into the oven to clean it is positively nerve-racking. McRobbie is also quite good as the kindly but oft-confused grandfather, yet it’s Dunagan’s Nana who will have you on-edge throughout the movie.
Like many people, I’ve been disappointed with M. Night Shyamalan’s recent offerings, and while the jury is still out as to whether The Visit will eventually rank as one of the director’s best movies (alongside The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village), it is, at the very least, a return to form, and for the first time in a while I can’t wait to see what M. Night Shyamalan comes up with next.