Comedy horrors are by no means easy to pull off – and in most cases, for either aspect to work, the other becomes compromised in the process. However in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest feature The Visit – he’s somehow managed, in quite remarkable fashion, to be neither scary, nor funny.
Presented as a faux-documentary, in the “found footage” style – our entry points are teenagers Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) – who have decided to go and visit their grandparents for the first time in their lives. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) won’t be joining them, following her fall out with her parents two decades earlier – and so waves her two children off as they head out to the sticks. They’re welcomed in by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie), and though things begin amicably, Rebecca and Tyler start to get freaked out when they see the elderly couple acting strangely at night, and always after 9.30pm…
Whether you love or loathe his features, one thing you can always say about Shyamalan is that he’s often attempting something creative and unique – but that can’t be said of The Visit. Using such a tired, commonly flawed concept with the found footage angle, he doesn’t do anything to justify taking such a hackneyed approach either, falling in to the same traps often connected with this style, with the consistent “why are they filming right now?” question lingering menacingly over proceedings, and dragging the narrative down – disallowing the chance for the audience to get immersed in this tale.
When you present your film in this way, you’re selling yourself into the notion of realism, it’s the entire point and what generates the horror and evokes feelings of terror – because the title is under the pretence that what we’re seeing is all genuine footage. So to then make a film that is so challenging to adhere to and abide by, with no commitment whatsoever to naturalism, it’s of great detriment to the viewer’s overall experience.
What doesn’t help matters is that the two protagonists simply don’t converse as normal teenagers do, their dialogue never feels natural – as they speak in such a way that would imply an adult has written it for them (which, you know, is the case). Oxenbould has proven again that he does have a bright future in cinema however, though if we could give the young Australian actor any advice – it would be to never rap on screen again. The most accomplished performance comes from Dunagan, who proves to be a real shining light in this severely underwhelming endeavour. She’s got a vulnerability about her, and not only provides the film with it’s only chilling moments, but also with it’s heart, as there’s something sad about the role of Nana. In the meantime, it is fun how we use elderly symptoms as a horror device too, as their strange behaviour can all be accredited to “being old”, though there is evidently more at play.
But it’s nowhere near enough to make this film in any way watchable. There’s one moment when Tyler, in regards to his older sister’s documentary she’s intent on making, questions whether she “gives a crap about cinematic standards”. A fair question – but one he should really be aiming in the direction of a certain Mr. Shyamalan.