A suspenseful drama written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Australia’s most prominent young actor, Ed Oxenbould, HAS to be good…or so one would think.

Unfortunately, the premise of The Visit fails to capture one’s interest for its entire duration. This is mainly due to the fact that the found-footage (where the events on screen are typically seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, often accompanied by their real-time off-camera commentary) horror subgenre has become so cliché ridden that even Shyamalan’s trade mark “sudden plot twist” is not enough to make one recall the film a day after seeing it – or at least get a little scared while watching. In fact, it’s hard to believe that The Visit was directed by the same person responsible for the cinematic masterpiece The Sixth Sense.

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The film’s plot is simple enough: brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and sister Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) Jamison are sent by their mom to a farm in rural Pennsylvania farm to spend a week so as to get to know their maternal grandparents. The kids have never seen their grandparents due to their mom’s escape from the family nest after her teen-aged boyfriend got her pregnant in high school. Rebecca is an aspiring filmmaker intent on filming the entire experience of meeting their grandparents for the very first time, which is why the shaky hand held camera is the predominant technique used in the film.  Unfortunately, not much realism is achieved despite that fact. Tyler perfectly fits the stereotype of an awkward teen eager to impress the ladies – if not with his looks, then with his “astonishing” rapping skills.

Upon arriving at their grandparents’ farm, the kids are informed of the bedtime in the house – 9.30 pm  – and told that going outside of their room past that hour wouldn’t be a wise thing to do. But,  kids being kids, Rebecca and Tyler do it anyway – only to discover that there is much more on this farm than first meets the eye and their relatives are not who they seem to be …( just like the infamous saying in the Twin Peaks series, “The Owls Are Not What They Seem”).

Ed Oxenbould and Peter McRobbie as Granfather and Grandson in The Visit
Ed Oxenbould and Peter McRobbie as Granfather and Grandson in The Visit

What follows feels like a distasteful adaptation of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale – complete with  “Would you mind climbing inside the oven to clean it?” phrase – modernized (we have Skype and cameras nowadays) and softened down to a PG 13 horror comedy flick. This one fails to really engage the viewer, however, despite the fact that child characters in horror flicks are the epitome of the ideal victim who typically make anyone watching care about.

Of course there are some better than average acting performances – such as that of Ed Oxenbould, who steals just about every scene he appears in. But just like his two previous films (both of which I’ve had the privilege of observing his acting) Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Paper Planes, I feel slightly disappointed that such a promising young talent has been stuck in mediocre productions.

The Visit – Trailer

3 COMMENTS

  1. I think Richard is overstating the case in saying that The Visit puts MNS “back on the top of his game,” but I also think Georgi’s assessment of this film is rather harsh.

    It is several leagues below Shyamalan’s early efforts (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable being my personal favourites). They were characterised by intelligently developed dramatic tension, strong storylines and cataclysmic plot-twists. The Visit lacks these qualities; its attempts at horror fail to chill (until the end, leaving this viewer wondering if it was worth waiting for). It has no story to speak of. Finally, Shyamalan’s attempt at his trademark shock denouement is so predictable that anyone who hadn’t fallen asleep after 10 minutes into the film is apt to see it coming.

    Georgi also makes a fair point in saying that using children and young people as the protagonists in horror/suspense movies is a cheap shortcut to winning the audience’s hearts. But if that’s a cheat, then it’s a cheat employed by virtually every movie reviewed on this site, good or bad.

    Shyamalan is a master in the art of creating creeping children. I need not exemplify that point. But since his cinematic début, Wide Awake, he has struggled to write credible parts for “normal” kids (if there are such things.) His casual child dialogue has always sounded less like the way young people really talk than the author/director’s idea of how they should talk. The Visit is no exception. The mistake he made here, in my view, was trying to do a flick about creepy elders – and he manages those little better than he does “normal” youngsters.

    Wait a minute, though: I really enjoyed this film. For all its flaws, I found it engaging and compelling. Much of that is down to the two young principals (both Aussies, as it happens). Ed Oxenbould has the headstart of being a sugary-cute if slightly rebellious young teen boy and Olivia DeJonge is wonderful as the sassy adolescent girl (I somehow doubt there was much acting involved in all that…) But to give the duo their due, they took and owned the mediocre script and carried the whole thing like seasoned pros. The result was outstanding.

    At the risk of treading on sacred cows here, I think Shyamalan has always relied on this dynamic interplay between his writing and the cast – and that’s what made his early work great. Let’s face it: would, “I see dead people” have become such an iconic line had it not been for Haley Joel Osment’s delivery?

    In my opinion, MNS’s mistake since The Village was to begin to believe his own hype and regard himself as a great writer and director. That, as is evident from his work over the last decade, he is not. What he excels in is engaging his cast to live his work, creating creepy kids and devising stunning twists.

    The fact that he has finally managed to do a new film that isn’t total bilge gives me hope that he may yet have another winner in him.

  2. We all agree that “Night” has gone sadly downhill of late, especially with his appallingly awful After Earth (though I liked the disappointing Last Airbender more than most). Nonetheless, I really felt that The Visit was a sold hit that showed him off doing what he does best. It has indeed been 16 years since The Blair Witch Project, but “found footage” is such a natural for today’s plug-in youth that, as a device, it not only adds realism to the film, but lets us get closer to the young stars much more easily than a traditional narrative style would have. I found the film both exciting and scary–and I took the oven scenes as a deliberate in-joke with us viewers. Oxenbould is indeed fantastic, and his raps (noting that his sister calls him “ethnically confused”) are both deliberately hilarious and, I think, endearing. In sum, I though this was both a realistic and chilling horror flick that put Night back on top of his game.

    • I have to disagree on found footage method being popular among youth nowadays – few years ago that might have been the case , but it is not anymore. Realistic and chilling are adjectives I can never imagine being used to describe The Visit – but I guess people have different criteria to judge by .

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