There was once a time where M. Night Shyamalan was a respected filmmaker, having made some truly fantastic films like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. Then, he slipped a little before he lost it and came crashing down, with some truly atrocious films like The Happening, After Earth and The Last Airbender. However, with his latest project, The Visit, Shyamalan returns to his roots but can he redeem himself or is it yet another disaster?

You'll be glad to hear, it's thankfully not the latter. Taking a step away from the big studios and the big blockbuster methods to make a smaller, self-funded, little indie horror, Shyamalan has delivered his best film in years with The Visit. After his early success, it seemed as though he got too caught up in trying to deliver big, intelligent thrillers that he slowly started to slip away from it. However, with his latest project, he departed from the Hollywood system and, using what money he made from After Earth, made a small film that he's passionate about and, of course, the results of doing so can be seen in what a simple yet brilliantly effective comedy-horror The Visit is.
 
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) is a budding filmmaker, with a passion for filming documentaries, and her little brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) is a keen, aspiring rapper, spitting out a freestyle beat when and where he can. Having separated from her parents, their single mother (Kathryn Hahn) wants to try and rekindle things with her family so sends the two kids off to visit their grandparents' house whilst she goes off to enjoy a vacation with her boyfriend. Deciding to make a documentary when she gets there, Becca uses her camera to film their little trip and get to know her grandparents a bit more. However, as their stay progresses, her and Tyler begin to notice that her Nona (Deanna Dunagan) and her Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are acting up but soon things begin to go awry as some dark secrets begin to emerge. Oh, and let's not even mention the expected but truly surprising M. Night Shyamalan plot twist. Don't worry, it's actually a good one - a very good one.
There's a lot to like about The Visit. The premise is so simple yet so ingenious and Shyamalan's screenplay is brilliant. Not only does he manage to create a creepy, unnerving atmosphere for which to tell the story in but he injects a nice bit of humour into the proceedings too, as a bit of light relief every now and then. However, unlike one of his earlier projects, The Happening, in which the audience laughed at Shyamalan, this time we're laughing with him. The script is genuinely so funny that, itself, it could work well as just a humour but, of course, the writer/director manages to mix things up and makes it a horror film too. Despite all the comedy, the film is still surprisingly rather unsettling and creepy. Unfortunately, it's never quite as scary as it could be though. Whilst there are plenty of moments that will make the hairs on the back of your neck prick up, moments that will genuinely make you jump are few and far between - merely due to the fact that the tones clash too much and there's never much of a balance so the humour means the horror is hindered a little.
 
However, that's not always a bad thing as the comedy entertains but those going for the horror aspect of the film may leave a little disappointed as scares, although good when they hit, are slim. The film uses the found-footage gimmick too but, unlike something like The Gallows, uses the gimmick well and to its advantage. The reasoning behind the found-footage aspect makes sense and it's not hard to buy into it either, filmmaking enthusiasts like myself can relate to Becca and the idea of just picking up a camera and filming anything and everything you could and you had access to. The use of the found-footage works well for The Visit and never feels cheap or contrived. It's almost as if you are actually watching Becca's documentary and not a directed, slick Shyamalan piece. There's no music other than when the characters are playing music and it feels so real and genuine - aside from an obvious horror gimmick towards the end of the film which is only in the film for the purpose of scares.
 
The acting in The Visit is great as well and only adds to the tense atmosphere and the picture's overall quality. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould are terrific as our two lead kids. Normally, children in horror films never works but both DeJonge and Oxenbould excel - with the latter stealing the belly share of the laughs on offer. You believe these characters and the fear they're feeling and you empathise for them and their horrible situation. It's also nice to see Kathryn Hahn make an appearance too, despite her limited screen-time. However, it's the strange and psychopathic grandparents that really steal the show here - Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan. McRobbie is brilliant as Pop Pop, the 'better' of the grandparents but still unsettling, nonetheless. Although, the latter is the standout. Dunagan is remarkable as the delusional and psychopathic Nona. From scratching the walls and scurrying across the floor to hiding under the bed and more, she truly transfixes and mesmerises with what is a completely and utterly chillingly terrifying performance as what is, arguably, one of the weirdest and creepiest characters in a horror film.
 
VERDICT:
The Visit is unnervingly creepy but, at the same time, outrageously funny. Whilst, it's certainly no Oscar-contender, it's not a disaster either. Shyamalan's return to his roots shows he still knows how to entertain... Welcome back, sir.
★★★☆

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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