Every time I saw the trailer for The Visit over the past few months, uncomfortable laughter would fill the theater. The same thing occurred during the movie itself, and I had a genuinely difficult time deciding if we were laughing at or with Shyamalan. In the end the answer is, I think, a bit of both. The Visit is clearly a weird-ass movie, and there are so many long silences after inexplicable things happen that it’s hard not to crack up. Yet the film isn’t bad; Actually, it rises above a whole lot of its found footage counterparts and is a surprisingly satisfying trip, despite all the bumps along the way.
If you’ve watched TV at all recently, you probably recognize The Visit as that movie where the old lady asks a little girl to get in the oven. The full package is basically a whole lot of that weirdness for 90 minutes. Strap in. Two kids are sent to visit their grandparents, only to be thrown off by some of their strange behavior – to say the least).
Everyone’s praising The Visit as Shyamalan’s best in years, and that’s for sure the case: This is his most enjoyable movie since Signs, and it’s great to see a man who started with such promise create something watchable again. But I’d like to focus more on how this is one of the most solid found-footage movies I’ve seen recently, restoring energy to a subgenre that’s getting worse and worse.
With The Visit, there’s actually a reason why these kids are recording everything: The youngest daughter, Becca, is a huge film nerd and is making a documentary about her grandparents. She has no idea she’s creating a horror movie, though. From her perspective, it’s going to be all about trying to reconcile her mom with her estranged parents and discovering the truth about their falling out. The children are, overall, pretty charming, and The Visit has some fun at Becca’s expensive with jokes about her pretentious tendencies. Let’s compare this to another recent Blumhouse found-footage picture, The Gallows. There, the protagonist is a horrible bully who picks up a camera and starts filming because he feels like it. Talk about a flimsy narrative device.
The Visit also gets started rather quickly, with tense moments that move the plot along from the very beginning. Looking back, given what we find out in the third act, I can’t recall of a single scene I would cut out. In The Gallows, and too many other found-footage films to name, the whole first act is essentially a complete waste of time, nothing but pointless scenes of the leads goofing off. You could excise a good 20 minutes out of The Gallows without losing anything. Take Willow Creek as another example, a Blair Witch ripoff where virtually nothing happens for 45 minutes. Even if you can’t buy into what unfolds on screen in The Visit, it certainly isn’t boring, and in the end that’s the greatest sin a story can commit.
Those are two of the biggest issues with found-footage movies these days: The annoying protagonist having no reason to be filming, and the movie taking far too long to get going. Just the fact that The Visit avoids both of these traps already makes it a breath of fresh air.
But is it scary? Sure, although not as scary as it could have been. The film relies heavily on the fear of normal people acting bizarre, particularly familiar members. It’s admittedly terrifying to imagine someone you love suddenly going crazy, or being possessed, or…something. That’s what’s so effective about Paranormal Activity, especially that unforgettable twist where Katie stands over Micah’s bed all night.
So why wasn’t it as memorable here, then? For whatever reason, although I was constantly interested in figuring out what was going on, I was never particularly frightened by Nana and Pop Pop, and that’s something The Visit needed to get right. They’re a little eerie, but I think their delivery of certain lines is part of why audiences are laughing at them. They say everything so matter-of-factly, as if they’re old actors who are reading right from a script rather than actual elderly people. Plus, they’re so obviously trying to be creepy that you never at any point believe that they could be your grandparents. Perhaps if we bought into them as friendly relatives one might actually visit, when the shit starts to hit the fan, it would be totally jarring, as it would be if a loved one began acting insane in real life. In the movie, though, they’re out there from the start.
That said, though I won’t be losing sleep to The Visit, the third act brought the entire thing together and had me smiling with appreciation of what Shyamalan accomplished. I wouldn’t dare reveal anything, but while I spent much of the second act wondering where the hell any of this is going and if Shyamalan could stick the landing, the last 20 minutes cast aside all doubt. I also instantly found the complete story much scarier once I truly understood what was going on here, and the way the information is doled out is pure genius.
Too bad the movie has one of the most cringeworthy end credits sequences in years. This isn’t a spoiler to say, but after the story actually wraps up, Shyamalan puts up a title card that says, “My brother insisted I put this here.” It then cuts to footage of the little boy rapping, because isn’t it so hilarious that this goofy little kid is rapping! Sure, why not end what should be a tense experience with the main character doing a lame rap? He does that about five more times in the actual film, by the way.
So yes, The Visit is highly flawed, with some awkward dialogue and many sequences that fall flat, but overall, I walked out admiring what Shamalyn was able to do here. It’s a found-footage movie that doesn’t waste your time, justifies its camera, and has a killer third act that’s worth waiting for. If only it could manage to be a bit scarier along the way