Impressions: The Visit

The Visit is M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 found footage film. In it, two kids go to visit their grandparents for the first time ever, as their mother has been estranged from them since before birth. The older sibling is filming the experience to put together for a documentary and in the hopes of helping their mother eventually reconcile with her parents. As they are there, the grandparents’ behavior gets increasingly disturbing.

I slept on The Visit because, as I have mentioned in the past, found footage is not my favorite method of storytelling. I think it can work, but more often than not, a movie would be more enjoyable to me if they skipped that way of telling the story. I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Visit is one of the exceptions where found footage actually makes more sense, and even serves one of the most important plot points well.

It does still have some of the things that irk me about found footage, randomly switching the camera for no reason, not dropping the camera when you clearly should, etc. However, overall it uses the storytelling method well and makes sense for the movie for some key moments.

The movie itself was solid. The kids are weird because they are simultaneously super annoying and entertaining. They aren’t the most believable kids, and the odd balance of annoying and funny extends beyond that to them being both too mature and immature at different times. However, kids can be hard to write, especially in a genre like horror (unless it’s kid-friendly horror). The kids have to be believable enough that we fear for them, and they don’t seem odd, but mature enough for the audience to connect and avoid them just crying in a corner the whole time. This movie doesn’t quite nail it, but it does get close enough that it is not really a problem overall.

The grandparents are also well done. They start sweet and doting, and their decline is gradual with a few spikes that keep you guessing. Some behavior hits as “this is an older couple struggling a bit,” while some behavior is downright terrifying. The movie also is clever about how it gets the kids to feel that they are still safe, even when it’s rather clear they are not, in that the grandparents apologize for not being better grandparents every time the kids question what is happening. It is extremely effective, and a believable thing added into the movie to keep the kids there.

It also plays well on our fears of aging and those that have aged. A lot of the most intense scenes are worse due in large part to who is doing the horror as opposed to what is being done. The idea of killer grandparents is pretty intense, and watching what is earlier perceived as a sweet old couple do shocking things adds an extra layer to everything. It was also intelligent to pick this particular fear because most people don’t want to admit that they have it, but it lurks underneath for a lot of us. I like when movies are willing to explore those types of fears vs. the ones we all have an easier time admitting we have.

The story is, sadly, not the strongest. There is an underlying plot to why the kids are there, why the mom is not, what the girl is doing with this documentary, but none of it really sticks. The mother’s scenes are awkward, and everything in the movie seems like filler to get us to the next tense moment. It is not a bad plot, just not developed as much as it possibly should have been. However, focusing on the horror scenes rather than an overall story is not actually the worst thing a horror movie can do.

The scares are where this movie kind of lost it for me. It has some solid moments, but for all the building of tension, I never thought there was that real “bam” moment at the climax, or throughout the movie itself. I ended up feeling more unsettled than outright scared. In the absence of scares, I will take suspense and discomfort, though, and there is a decent amount of that.

I genuinely enjoyed the movie. I can’t say that it’s one of the greats, but it is a solid horror film, and it does do some interesting things with some great moments. While I found some flaws, I was impressed with the overall experience, and I actually enjoyed it. I also once again give credit to Shyamalan for being willing to touch a fear that a lot of people don’t.

However, a lot of people did not bother to see this movie, which I think is a shame. I think part of the problem is this movie came out at the wrong time. 2015 was well into the found footage craze that slowly started to seep in after Paranormal Activity and then seemed to take over for a while. People were starting to wane on them. It was also when Shyamalan was still getting a lot of negative reactions from moviegoers. Something I feel was a little overdone but way too broad of a subject for this Impressions. The problem is sleeping on The Visit was, in my opinion, a mistake.

I would recommend The Visit to most genre fans. It does manage to stand out, despite how much found footage we have at this point. It is not a perfect movie, but it is a good one. It is worth visiting (heh) at least once.

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