The Visit Review – Final Act Flop

The Visit is a strange, strange film.
The much talked about possible ‘return to form’ for the once unstoppable M. Night Shyamalan; a director who had a run of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs at the turn of the century, but whose recent filmography includes such stinkers as The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth. So, where exactly does The Visit sit on that vast spectrum?
Funnily enough, I’d put the opening hour towards the top, and the final half hour somewhere near the bottom.

The Visit follows Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), two siblings whose mother (Kathryn Hahn) left home at nineteen and therefore the children have never met her parents. So, when said grandparents invite the two youngsters over for a week of family bonding, the suspicions start to kick in.
Well, for the audience, they do. But, Becca and Tyler happily waltz off to Pennsylvania and are left to deal with their elders’ increasingly bizarre behaviour.
It’s a strong set-up and paves the way for a slowly unfolding mystery as to what exactly is going on with these septuagenarians. And, for an hour or so, the film delivers on that promise.
Becca’s a budding filmmaker and we see all of the action through her cameras. She makes for an engaging protagonist and Shyamalan gives her a tongue-in-cheek cineliteracy, which makes for some welcome self-reflexive jokes about his recent output. Not to be outdone, her freestyle rapper brother provides broader comic relief and Oxenbould pulls it off with aplomb.
The fact the first hour works so well is due, in a large part, to DeJonge and Oxenbould’s naturalistic and supremely confident performances. As the days tick by and their grandparents’ behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, it’s the two young stars that really sell the creepiness of the situation.
Maryse Alberti (cinematographer) also shoots the frosty locales really breathtakingly, at times, capturing capillary branches silhouetted against fiery sunsets. Also striking are the blood red time-of-day titles Shyamalan emblazons on the screen, especially when set against the stillness of the surrounding scenery.
The strong sense of mystery in the early scenes sees Shyamalan deftly toying with subgenres – are we talking monsters? Aliens? Possession? He makes regular allusions to Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and left me wishing my Grimmian expertise extended beyond Hansel and Gretel. I got the feeling that a more enlightened viewer would have uncovered a far deeper web of nods and references. And they may have taken a whole lot more from the revelations of the ludicrous finale.
In the final half hour, the creepiness just becomes flat out bizarre, and that’s when the movie loses it’s footing. What was once chilling becomes camp, and the mysterious mundane. The finely woven tension is stretched just that bit too far and the tightrope collapses under the weight. From that point onwards, scenes that would have been tense just ten minutes prior, fall flat on their face.

And, while you get the feeling that Shyamalan is still chuckling to himself happily, I was left stony-faced and dissatisfied. The Visit is a case of a strong build-up that grinds to a halt thanks to a fumbled finale.

★★

The Visit is out now on DVD/VOD in the UK.

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