The horror genre is no stranger to found-footage and documentary-style filmmaking. In M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 film, The Visit, we see the sub-genre receive a slight tweak, positioning it as more of a school project. Whilst it doesn’t dramatically overhaul things, it lets you see them from a different perspective, making it seem far more credible. At times it feels a little like a tick-box exercise, but all in all, I was quite fond of it.
At the heart of the film, we have Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) who are about to embark on a solo trip to their grandparents’ house for a few days. However, once in the house, it becomes clear that there is something not quite right about the old couple, and as their behaviour becomes stranger and stranger throughout the week, the children know they must leave.
The Visit revolves around two fantastic performances
Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould absolutely smash it! Everything from the brother and sister dynamic to their reactions to events in the film were bang on. What I liked in particular was how out of their depth they appeared to be in their grandparents’ house. These weren’t family members that they saw very often, and you got a sense that they really didn’t know how to act around these people despite the family bond. It reminded me of when I was little and would visit family that I only saw once a year. It’s an odd situation to try and describe, but I think the actors here portrayed it perfectly.
These performances played a central part in making The Visit feel so believable, but it also made it very easy to see the story from their perspective. What made the film stand out to me was how it is essentially shot from a child’s view – something I’ve not seen with any documentary-style films before. It tinged the experience with the same imagination that a kid would have. This made guessing the inevitable twist very interesting because I was never entirely sure of what I was seeing. Was what I was watching really happening? Or was it something along the lines of what a kid would think they were seeing? It was funny because whilst the child’s gaze made everything seem more credible, it did also leave me trying to apply some sort of adult rationale to things to explain what was ‘really’ happening.
As far as the famed M. Night Shyamalan twist goes, I didn’t see it coming in the form that it eventually did. It was a shocker, I’ll give The Visit that much. The writing that was done in order to incorporate such an idea was super clever in my opinion. It was one of those moments where I really couldn’t argue with what had happened; it wasn’t unfeasible that this particular situation had unfolded, and it didn’t feel like it had been crowbarred in either. Plus, I’d imagine it added a whole new level of horror for parents because it truly was their worst nightmare on film.
In terms of the way this film gets in your head, there is a lot going on here. There are a few jump scares, some super uncomfortable moments and a gentle sprinkling of the all-out disgusting thrown in for good measure. At times, I felt like a full-on assault had been launched in my general direction. Mix this with the feeling of isolation that The Visit builds on from the start and it felt like there was little escape from whatever horrors lay in wait. It played with psychological elements very well, and was every bit about the more frightening aspects of being part of a messy family as it was just about the weird things that happen at night when you’re staying with nanny and grandpa.
The less you know, the better
To say I was pleasantly surprised by The Visit would be something of an understatement. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting, but whatever it was this definitely exceeded in all areas. For anyone with slightly weird relatives that they’ve had to spend any great amount of time around, this will stir up some childhood memories for you, which is where a good chunk of the horror comes from. However, if everyone you’re related to is normal, worry not – there is plenty of other material to get a thrill from.