The Visit (2015)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Director M. Night Shyamalan had never tried to write a horror-comedy, though some of his previous attempts at filmmaking have been laughable. That changed with “The Visit,” which made theatergoers shout…both of horror and laughter. Shyamalan seems to strike a balance some horror-comedies never find. It’s his best film in over a decade. “Shyamalanaissance” is a mouthful, but I’m gonna go ahead and declare it anyway.
It’s been fifteen years since divorcee Miss Jamison (Kathryn Hahn) has seen her parents, and her children Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have never met them. Out of the blue, they contact their daughter and ask if they can spend the week with the grandchildren they never got the chance to meet. Mom is hesitant, but the kids are excited for the chance to see their mother’s childhood home. So excited, in fact, they decide to record the trip in order to bring mom back a keepsake. When we meet Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie), they seem a little…off. But the kids understandably write it off as the kooky effects of old age. Grandma is prone to walk around the house naked. Grandpa has incontinence. Gross and weird, sure…but not concerning. But then weird turns to creepy and creepy turns to petrifying. That’s when the real fun begins.
I absolutely doubted the success of “The Visit” before I ever stepped foot in the theater. After seeing the trailer, I didn’t feel that it would be scary or that there would ever be any sense of danger. Boy, was I wrong. In fact, the trailer gives away almost nothing, showing only scenes from the first thirty or forty minutes of the movie. Throughout, “The Visit” fills you with an aching sense of dread. My palms were sweaty. I was shaky and nervous. And that was before the climactic twist. The creepy granny character has never been creepier than Dunagan’s classic horror performance (the Tony-winning actress has been in the business for decades). Oxenbould is hysterical. He had the theater laughing, when they weren’t shrieking in shock. “The Visit” mixed horror and comedy well—like the best of them, it let you believe that it would end like a comedy; that the laughs would win out. Instead, it definitely favored fright. M. Night Shyamalan, for as much as I distrusted him after his last two movies, “After Earth” and “The Last Airbender” (both major box office flops), knows how to construct an effective horror movie. Sure, he borrows a few overused archetypes. But he mixes his jump scares (what you can see) with the horrifying sense of anxiety (what you can’t) like a true professional. It’s full of classic WTF moments, leaving a weird feeling in your gut. Good horror movies never really leave you. They can be some of the most unforgettable films, no matter how hard you try to forget them. “The Visit” stayed with me through the night. You’ll never look at your grandparents the same way again.