Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenwriter: M. Night Shyamalan
Runtime: 94 mins.
Australian release date: 24 September 2015
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 21 September 2015
There’s something unsettling about sitting in a darkened cinema surrounded by an audience letting out loud screams one minute and bursting into laughter the next. In M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, The Visit, the audience was doing just that for much of the movie’s duration.
But don’t worry, it’s intentional. By mixing the element of suspense, his signature modus operandi in his 1999 debut feature The Sixth Sense, with a modicum of twisted humour Shyamalan has successfully created a chiaro/oscuro atmosphere that leaves the audience hanging until the very end - and yes, there is a twist!
Beginning in Philadelphia, we meet a couple of ‘brats’ (an affectionate term used by their mother), Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her precocious but endearing brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), as they head off to visit their estranged grandparents for the first time. Why? So their single mum (Kathryn Hahn) can go on a romantic Caribbean cruise with her latest beau. Also, the siblings want to try and heal the 15-year rift between parents and daughter that has existed since their mother walked out of her parents’ home. Being inquisitive, the kids want to find out what brought on that abrupt departure. Thus, they eagerly set off for their grandparents’ remote farm house in Pennsylvania.
Becca is an aspiring documentary filmmaker who uses Tyler as her gofer and second unit cameraman. Tyler is also an aspiring rap singer who can deliver his rhymes on cue, a talent he’s prepared to demonstrate at the slightest prompt. When they arrive at the farm, which is so isolated they can’t get a cell phone signal, they are welcomed by Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and Nana (Deanna Dunagan), who insist on three house rules: have a great time, eat as much as you want, but don’t ever leave your room after 9.30 pm. The first two requests are pretty acceptable coming from the quaint, somewhat peculiar, ‘oldies’ but what’s that third one all about? Naturally, the kids’ curiosity gets the better of them and the horror show begins.
Using her camera, Becca succeeds in bringing their adventure right into your lap as her digi-cam is turned on virtually the whole time, the conceit of The Visit being that the entire film is the one the kids have made on their trip. The cinema verité look is no doubt due to French cinematographer Maryse Alberti’s background in documentary film-making and, even though there are a couple of moments when there is obviously a second camera in the room, the idea that this is the kids’ footage largely holds up. The two young Australian leads are excellent, especially the performance delivered by DeJonge and the fun and at times off-the-wall characterisation by Oxenbould. This young kid has a real future, judging by his performance here and in the recent Paper Planes. They are ably supported by McRobbie and Dunagan, who are suitably ambiguous in their ‘are they crazy or just eccentric’ roles. Kathryn Hahn also provides a solid footing to her character as the harried mother.
As the suspense racks up and the mystery deepens, we are jolted between terror and laugh-out-loud humour, the latter providing some light relief after a few particularly scary moments. Just don’t go if you have a nervous disposition because the audience reaction might give you nightmares even if the film doesn’t.