When I was a kid, going to my grandpas house would mean deer-watching, boat rides on the lake, and meandering through quaint country towns in eastern Oregon. Trips to my granny’s house would mean treats, swimming in the old people’s pool, and visits to 7-11 for Slurpees. These trips never ended in fright or terror and they will always be fond memories of my childhood. M. Night Shyamalan, whose name at this point is almost like a deadly poison if it is connected with a movie, plays with the concept of a trip to your grandparents house and unspools the horrifying—and horrifyingly funny—The Visit, introducing us to not only a revitalized director, but also grandparents you never want to see again…and I mean that in the best way possible.
It is a tricky feat to balance horror and comedy. Tipping it too much towards horror can make the comedy feel out of place, but focusing more on the comedy can make the scares feel goofy and less impactful. Shyamalan, who has had trouble focusing purely on horror after Signs and The Village, layers the film with enough comedy to make it feel welcome and cathartic without it becoming a parody. The laughs, occasionally following a fright, come with a cautious warning that this is by no means solely a comedy as the film features some truly horrific moments that feel are the more visceral with its found footage style—shot by Becca and Tyler in the hopes of making a documentary that will somehow reunite the entire family. Though a lot of the scares and technique are hardly original, Shyamalan manages to make it fun, fresh, and freaky.
Becca and Tyler (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) are sent to their grandparents house by their mother (Kathryn Hahn) so she can go on a cruise with her new beau. After a long-winded explanation that their father had bailed out on them a decade prior, and that their mother had had a major falling out with her parents and hadn’t spoken to them for years, the children are whisked away by train to the secluded farmhouse of their Nana and Pop Pop (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) whom they have never met. The slow pacing in the beginning opens up to a tense slow burn once all the explanations had been said and done, but after their first night in the house, things begin to feel a little weirder than they were expecting.
The children, who are pretty new to acting, deliver impressive performances for the intense, frightening, and occasionally comedic material. DeJonge is the more serious one, having been older at the time of their fathers departure. She gives her grandparents the benefit of the doubt after strange events take place, not quite realizing how dire their situation is. Oxenbould is the comedy in the film. Spewing freestyle raps, complaining about how he can’t text girls, and never quite taking things as seriously as he should, is a delight and welcome reprieve from the shocking moments the film unveils night after night. It’s the grandparents, though, that really amp up the film to an insidious level with Dunagan entirely stealing it with a delightfully charming initial impression that soon fades away once night falls and you see her running through the house, popping up from behind corners. She is as grandmotherly as can be, but absolutely chilling when she asks “would you mind getting inside the oven to clean it?” so innocently that you could hardly deny
Never would I have thought that I would actually be writing a positive review for a Shyamalan film—let alone have it be one where I strongly encourage you to see it for its authentically horrific moments and welcoming comedy. It may not be Halloween yet, but The Visit is plenty scary to hold you off until then and will be a welcome addition to any horror fest you might be holding. Don’t let the name Shyamalan scare you, the grandparents will do plenty of that—grandma’s playful “I’m gonna get you” will never quite resonate with you the same way again.