Thursday, 24 September 2015

Film Review: The Visit

M Night Shyamalan’s The Visit melds genuine horror thrills with tongue-in-cheek gags to create something truly unique; a lo-fi found-footage flick where is the best plot twist is simply how good the end result is.

Whisper the phrase ‘found footage horror’ into the ear of any film lover and you’ll almost certainly send a shiver down their spine. As sub-genres go, this pseudo-documentary style, which first found widespread popularity with 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, has been figuratively and literally done to death recently: The Gallows, As Above So Below and Project Almanac are just a handful of the god-awful bandwagon riders who’ve adopted this cheap and nasty technique to make a quick buck.

If you then proceeded to include M Night Shyamalan in that conversation, the aforementioned cinephile would most likely need a lie down to recuperate from the resultant terror firmly entrenched in their mind. A divisive director whose filmography traverses iconic highs such as The Sixth Sense and plumbs incomprehensibly dismal lows such as The Last Airbender, Shyamalan has unfairly become associated with silly, nonsensical twists and poor direction of late. 

However, in his latest film The Visit, Shyamalan shows signs of returning to his much-celebrated early work; filmed on a shoestring budget of just $5 million and without the backing of a major Hollywood studio, The Visit is pragmatic, stripped-back film-making that does away with bells and whistles in favour of genuine suspense and shocking thrills. 

The narrative revolves around two teens, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who are made to spend the week on their estranged grandparents farm whilst their mother (Kathryn Hahn) holidays with her new boyfriend; confined to the guest room after 9.30pm, the kids start to question their Nan and Pop Pop’s odd behaviour once the sun goes down and all sorts of things start going bump in the night. 

The Visit’s true strength lies in its clever simplicity; a non-existent score and the handheld camerawork operate in tandem to frame the movie as a documentary that has been filmed and edited by DeJonge’s character about their week on the farm. I doubt it’ll sit right with everybody, but it’s through this concept that Shyamalan takes aim at the horror genre, as well as his own past work.  The Visit has this rich vein of referential humour that flows across the 94-minute runtime, an element that came as a most welcome surprise. 

Rather than being a straight-up horror akin to Insidious or Paranormal Activity, this film is actually a rather clever mix of horror, drama and comedy that, on paper, shouldn’t work but somehow still comes together to create something memorable, if not wholly successful. Whether you’re willing to roll with the smorgasbord of genres is left entirely up to you. 

Aussie actor Oxenbould establishes himself as an undisputed rising star with some hilarious scene-stealing moments; he captures the ‘cheeky little brother’ archetype perfectly with multiple running gags about freestyle rap and cursing. That being said, I was most impressed with DeJonge (another Aussie), whose eclectic performance can be felt even when her character is stood behind the camera. Strong-willed and intelligent, DeJonge’s character drives the plot forward through her desire to reconnect her family using film. Where Oxebould gets the bulk of the laughs, DeJonge is tasked with being the emotional anchor of this film, a role that she carries off with ease. 

It’d be remiss of me to not mention the excellent Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie as Nana and Pop Pop respectively. Without giving too much away, they both give chilling performances that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat with an unsettling blend of sugary sweetness and quiet malice. 

The Verdict: 7/10

It might not recapture the earth-shattering narrative brilliance of The Sixth Sense or the rich visual design of The Village, but The Visit hopefully marks the beginning of an upward trend for its much-maligned director. The hokey B-movie plot is celebrated rather than squashed through some surprisingly effective comedic beats, and if you stick around for the end you’ll find chilling horror and genuine emotional drama in equal measure.

The Visit is in cinemas across Australia from today. This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.

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