After the debacle of After Earth and The Last AirBender, Manoj Night Shyamalan re-surfaces with The Visit, a thriller with a comic trail. While horror is not new to the Oscar nominated director (for The Sixth Sense), weaving it with a chuckle-worthy comedy is perhaps a new genre for him. And he does succeed in his effort.
The premise is vintage Shyamalan —a children’s perspective; a broken marriage; a single mother; the “everything is normal” beginning and then enter unease and yes, the final twist in the tale. But it steers away from other Shyamalan films as there is no heavy-handed, self-important deep meaning in it. It has a light-hand, which makes it rise to an entertaining, unpretentious film.
The Visit is in the genre of “found footage” films (a pseudo documentary where much of the film is presented as if it were discovered), which Becca (De Jonge), the poised teenager, an aspiring film-maker, is making about their week-long visit to their grand-parents’ home in rural Pennsylvania. Her apprentice is her precocious younger brother Tyler (Oxenbould), who has been given a camera of his own and likes to pep everything up with his rapping. The unusual thing about this visit is that the kids have never seen their grandparents before as their mother has been estranged from her parents for 25 years.
Yes, the lady hasn’t seen her parents since she walked out of their home after a bitter argument about the man she was marrying. Even though the husband has since abandoned her and she is battling life on her own, she hasn’t gone back to her parents. This is the first time that she has melted enough to let her kids visit them for a week.
The Visit which unfolds as regular children visiting loving but strange grandparents—Nana (a very convincingly odd Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (McRobbie), gets a bit uneasy very soon.
The children are told that they are not to come out of their room after 9:30 p.m. and they are not to go into the basement due to “mold.” And, of course, that makes them do just that —and they make bewildering, unsettling discoveries.
Nana, the benevolent granny who insists on cooking and feeding the children during the day does strange things at night. Pop-Pop disappears in his shed and appears to be a different man altogether at times. The children discuss the goings-on on web-chats with their mother, but are told to give the old couple a chance as they are, well, old. And old people are odd people.
But when the eccentricity gives way to downright scary behavior, the children realize it is not just “old-age,” but something a lot more eerie. And this prepares us for a twist but when it comes, it is unexpected, unless you happen to be an Agatha Christie fan.
The performances of both the kids are exceptional, even in the glossed-over bits about coming to terms with their dad abandoning them. Oxenbould is endearing as the cleanliness freak rapper, while De Jonge has turned in a pitch-perfect condescending older sister.
Dunagan is superb as she transitions from a loving granny to the one who is not above smilingly asking a grandkid to climb “right-in the oven” to clean it and slamming the door shut on her as a chilling joke. Hahn, as the mother, does justice to her role.
The writing, by Shayamalan himself, perhaps could have been tighter as the film does lose pace intermittently and later appears to rush towards the end. Some scenes are unnecessarily long and remain unexplained. Mercifully, The Visit comes without any trappings of high technology, intricate messages or even camera gimmicks and is all the more refreshing for it. In fact, it makes one wonder if the irrepressible Tyler, with his hand-held camera and Becca, as a budding film-maker are not Shyamalan’s tongue-in-cheek references to himself as a kid.
Well done, Shyamalan, here’s looking forward to more from you.
Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer and a teacher.