Remember the good old days of horror films where the stories were original and they did not rely on gore or people being stapled together to scare you? These types of horror films in Hollywood anyways do not get made. That is until M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, ) got it into his head to make a throwback horror film. The genre is so messed up that as he has gone around doing press for the film he shies away from calling it a horror film.
After directing the wonderful film The Sixth Sense many film fans have been waiting for M. Night Shyamalan to follow it up with another strong film. It has been a long wait. A long wait in which we have had to suffer through such awful films as The Last Airbender, Lady in the Water and After Earth. He has divided his time equally between fantasy and horror films with little to no success. It got so bad that we said that Unbreakable was a decent film because we liked his work so much. Things were so bleak that at a certain point I was wondering aloud how this guy got any money to make more bad films that did zero at the box office. Then along comes The Visit in which he both directs and wrote the screenplay. What has been most frustrating about the guy is that he has some solid ideas but the way he brings them to screen has been clunky to say the least. With his fourteenth film he finally lives up to his potential.
Part of the reason why this film works is that it is small and doesn’t try to shoot for the stars. Sometimes Shyamalan’s were so exaggerated in regards to scale that they turned you off from the get go. This one is a much smaller tale and stays that way. A single mother (played by Kathryn Hahn), who does not even get a name in the story, decides to send her two teenage kids, Becca (played Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (played by Oxenbould), to her parents’ remote country home where she spent some time growing up. It turns out to be the longest and hopefully scariest week of the young kids’ lives.
Grandma (played by Deanna Dunagan) and Grandpa (played by Peter McRobbie) have not been close to their grandkids due to a fight between them and their daughter leading to an estrangement. Becca is an aspiring filmmaker and spends the week recording everything that is going on. Tyler, who wants to be a rapper, just spends his time acting like a jerk. As time goes on strange things begin happening and the teens find out that Grandma has some mental illness that causes her to bang on walls and scratch at doors as soon as the sun goes down and Grandpa is not better telling them tales about a white creature with yellow eyes. They tell their mother and she just dismisses them. Plus she is too busy to pay attention to them as she is focused on spending some time with her boyfriend. The teens are going to have to rely on themselves to get out of this jam…alive.
Good horror films usually have a couple of common characteristics. One is decent acting. Not Oscar worthy but good enough that it is not distracting. The success of this film lies on the shoulders of the two teens and they prove themselves charismatic, natural and watchable. Two, they have solid stories with several twists to keep the viewer hanging. Of course, this one does as that is a trait of Shyamalan films. This time out he does not allow the twist to overwhelm the film. The focus is not solely on the twist. Three, is that the tension usually plays on fears that most people suffer from. This film uses young people’s fear of old people well.
Shyamalan shows much confidence and good decision making in the telling of the tale. He has also managed the near impossible – for found footage and shaky camera work not to annoy the bejesus out of me. With films like the one, several that only see the big screen at film festivals like Fantasia and a recent goodie, The Conjuring, fans of horror have something to cling to lately. And a film that will make you jump…a couple of times.