The Visit (2015)

The Visit is a horror film written and directed by M.Night Shyamalan, the man who brought us exquisitely clever films such as The Sixth Sense, Signs and Unbreakable.  The premise of the film is that two children go to stay at their grandparents house and find out they are a touch peculiar, something which immediately has parents (and probably children) smirking.

The film is presented in documentary style from the camera belonging to the eldest child, teenager Becca (Olivia DeJonge).  She films her mother by way of an interview, who refuses to divulge the reason she has not seen or spoken to her parents since before Becca was born.  Her mother is presented as having a fragile state of mind; her husband abandoned her and her two young children to live in California and has not been in touch since.  The children however, appear stable, albeit with Becca living her life through the filming of others, and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), has extreme OCD, particularly about washing germs off his hands.  He also raps about any subject he is given.  Becca and Tyler visit their grandparents to allow their mother time away with her boyfriend.

The children have never met their grandparents and have been instructed that their mother still does not want to speak with them, or even see them.  Communication between mother and child takes place again through a filmic medium, this time via Skype, until early on during the visit, when their Nana ruins the webcam on Becca’s laptop.  Already there are warning signs that not all is as it seems.

Initially, the grandparents are portrayed as a lovely old couple, delighted to finally meet their grandchildren. However as the film progresses, Becca and Tyler follow and film them and start witnessing strange activities and behaviour.  Why does Pop Pop sneakily place carrier bags in the woodshed?  Why are they not allowed out of their bedroom after 9pm each evening?

Slowly, answers to these mysteries are revealed, particular Nana’s strange night time habits of crazily running around naked.  Surely that’s the stuff of most children’s nightmares?  Disobeying the house rules, through the camera lens, Becca records the strange activities, editing them on her laptop and cajoling her brother in to assisting.

The film makes obvious the process of film-making, the choices made when selecting specific shots to edit together, down to the music used to convey certain emotions.  Honesty, however, is revealed through several poignant scenes.  Tyler films an interview of Becca, zooming in tightly on his sister’s face as he asks the probing and personal question of why she never looks at herself in the mirror.  Becca conducts a similar interview with Tyler (without the intrusive zooming).  Both scenes confirm that they too are affected by their father abandoning them.

The horror aspect mainly comes through the filmic conventions of the genre.  The camera focuses closely on an individual, rather than a wider angled shot, and suspense is created very well, as expected from Shyamalan’s films.  Several moments make the viewer jump, and several more just instil a feeling of disgust.

As the tension builds and the children uncover the truth to the mysteries of their grandparents, the films inevitably forces both Becca and Tyler to confront their fears.  The conclusion provides an elliptical feel, as Becca again interviews her mother, and this time obtains the truth about why she refused to see her grandparents.  Peppered throughout, is a great dose of humour, most of which is generated by Tyler, who also provides the closing rap as the credits roll.

The Visit is almost a parody of the horror genre.  It does not take itself too seriously, overtly reminds the viewers of how documentary films are made, and has plenty of mystery and moments to make you jump.

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