Whether you love or loathe his movies, if there is one thing you can always praise filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan for, it’s his commitment to ingenuity. He so often attempts to be inventive, and tries to offer something original. While often working as something of a silver lining to his vexing productions, it’s not a redeeming feature in this latest title The Visit, as he tackles the tired found footage style. In an unsurprising set of events, he falls into the same traps often associated with this technique, with the question of ‘why are they filming this?’ lingering menacingly over proceedings.
Presented as a faux-documentary, shot by teenager Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge), the idea is to document her first ever meeting with her grandparents, as she sets off with her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) to stay with Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie). Travelling alone, as their mother (Kathryn Hahn) had fallen out with them years earlier, the pair are welcomed in, but as their week long stay progresses, they start to get increasingly more perturbed and frightened by the elderly couple acting strangely – and oddly, always after 9.30pm.
When presenting your film in the found footage format you are agreeing to an unwritten rule, and selling into the notion of realism – as you’re pretending that the footage we’re seeing is genuine. But this title could not be further away from authenticity, with such a poorly crafted screenplay that is impossible to abide by. Take the way Rebecca and Tyler converse – it’s in no way a reflection of how real teenagers speak, instead sounding like an adult has written the dialogue for them. Which, of course is exactly what happened. There’s no denying Oxenbould can act mind you, though if there’s one piece of advice the young actor can take with him in to the future, it’s to never rap on screen again.
On a more positive note, Dunagan turns in a strong performance, adding not only the very few chilling moments, but any sense of pathos derives from the role of Nana too. It’s not enough to save this film however, being a rather unfortunate comedy horror that is neither funny nor scary. There’s one moment when Tyler poses a question to his sister that, while making her documentary, she doesn’t ‘give a crap about cinematic standards’ – an accusation which is best directed at the man at the helm of this particular movie.