“… There’s something wrong with Nana and Pop Pop.”
Last year, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his thriller roots with The Visit. This weekend we traveled to Nana and Pop Pop’s to see if the film delivered.
Without overthinking it, The Visit was a fun time at the movies. There were scares, creepy foreshadowing, and I never found myself waiting for the movie to end. I was at full attention and filled with questions throughout and, like the two young leads, desperately seeking an explanation for all this strange behavior.
Well written characters and human portraits meticulously crafted by the cast elevate the film above your average found footage horror flick. The characters have rich, yet relatable backstories. The actors’ performances add emotional depth and a sense of humanity to what could easily turn into an over the top farce.
I’m a huge fan of Kathryn Hahn (Parks and Recreation, We’re the Millers), and her work in this film highlights her ability to play both comedy and drama with such ease and grace. One moment she’s light and funny as expected, and a split second later she’s able to deliver a deeply touching, personal monologue that immediately makes the viewer forgive and understand her actions. There’s a moment at the end of the film that I’m sure could easily have wound up on the cutting room floor, but I’m so glad it didn’t. Seeing her character go through this cathartic journey raises the quality and deepens the underlying heart of the film.
The young leads in the movie, Australian actors Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould, do a great job as well. They depict a genuine brother-sister dynamic. Both clearly intelligent actors, their honest performances far surpass my expectations for child actors. Unlike some young actors, I wasn’t annoyed by them once. They’re both funny and vulnerable, and you can’t help but root for their triumph.
Peter McRobbie is excellent as ‘Pop Pop’, swiftly shifting between a strong paternal figure and a weakening older man.
The highest accolade though must go to Deanna Dunagan for her portrayal of ‘Nana’. A Tony award winning actress, Dunagan adds depth and complexity to a character that could easily have become a stereotypical caricature if played by a less talented actress. Despite the events of the film, I felt for ‘Nana’ and believe it takes a skilled actor to play such a role without judging her character.
Shyamalan’s writing and directing succeeds as well. With The Visit, he’s gotten back to what made him a noteworthy force in filmmaking. He rejects the big budget, studio-influenced pitfalls that once threatened the quality associated with his name in Hollywood. With this film, he returns to a simple premise involving strong characters. It works, and you get a signature “Shyamalan twist” too (without veering into the ridiculous and laughable). Grounding the twist in reality made me enjoy it even more.
There are layers in the film’s themes as well. This story is more than crazy, old people causing trouble. This story is more than creepy grandparents tormenting their grandchildren. The Visit touches on the universal human fear of aging and losing the people closest to you. Underneath the audience-grabbing premise of creepy grandparents is a story about forgiveness. It’s a lesson in letting go of the anger and resentment we feel toward the ones we love that let us down. It’s a reminder to let it all go and make amends with those that have wronged us while we still have the chance.
I know we’re all getting sick of found footage. It’s been a staple of the horror genre since films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity became such commercial successes. In the end, it’s a lucrative storytelling medium that production companies can rely on to get a film made with a minimal budget and still enjoy a major return to investors. As tired of this style as I am, I feel like it works for this film. With minimal locations and props, a simple story, and honest acting performances, The Visit is able to use the found footage approach without it seeming contrived or forced. Granted, there were moments toward the end where I found myself thinking, “She wouldn’t still be filming! Put down the camera and run!” Yet, because the film succeeds in so many other areas, I was easily able to forgive and look past this.
It does seem highly unlikely that a mother would send her two children to stay with people she hasn’t spoken to in years. For this, I can see how people will bash the mother’s irresponsible choices in this story. However, they justify her situation often, explaining how the mother hasn’t seen her parents in years due to a disagreement they had when she left as a teenager. Her decision is addressed and dealt with so thoroughly in the movie, I don’t find it enough to hold it against the film or the character. After all, in most horror films, it’s a lovable character’s mistakes that often leads to the most dire consequences.
Two scenes- not “bad”- but definitely cringeworthy and disgusting. A sure gross out moment that I never want to see again. Still, there was a reason for it, and it certainly made the children’s predicament all the more unbearable.
This movie is filled with little moments that disturb the audience. There are also a handful of jump scares (something that a lot of horror critics disdain but a tool that I don’t find irritating in the least). The scariest thing about this movie though is that it touches on a dark fear that all of humanity worries about: growing old. So much of the unusual behavior exhibited by the grandparents is blamed on their old age. Sadly, the people we love and grow up admiring do begin to fade as they grow old. Eventually we all have to come to terms with our inevitable decay. It’s that bleak fact that leaves a more haunting impression than any “twist ending” ever could.
Have you seen The Visit? Leave your thoughts and opinions with us below!
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Below is the trailer for The Visit, although I highly recommend you avoid watching it before seeing the film for the first time.