Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn, Celia Keenan-Bolger
Running time: 94mins
The lowdown: M. Night Shyamalan threatens to make a return to form with The Visit, but manages yet again to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. His tale of a brother and sister visiting their grandparents and realising all is not well joins The Prestige as an enthralling experience ruined by a denouement that betrays the early good work. Horrifyingly disappointing.
The full verdict: After early Oscar-nominated promise, by the time M. Night Shyamalan came to helm Will Smith stinker After Earth his name was so toxic he was barely mentioned in any promo material.
Now, with mojo partially restored by the not-appalling TV series Wayward Pines, the writer/director takes $5m reportedly of his own money (a budget lower than his forgotten 1998 feature Wide Awake) for a Blair Witch does Hansel and Gretel fairytale shocker.
Aussie actors DeJonge and Oxenbould make likeable leads as siblings Becca and Tyler, shouldering a plot told as a documentary being shot by the elder sister.
Becca’s ambition is to resolve the mystery of why her mum (Hahn) is estranged from grandparents Nana and Pop Pop (Dunagan and McRobbie). But, nothing is ever that simple.
The documentary approach (shot by frequent factual cinematographer Maryse Alberti) allows The Visit to plays clever games with audiences wise to the found footage horrors of Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, [REC], etc etc.
Something is clearly off. But, is it merely the aging process resembling horror imagery to young ‘uns freaked by old people’s ailing faculties, or something more sinister? A cheery admonishment from Pop Pop to steer clear of the basement elicits titters, while the kindly faced Nana’s disturbing nocturnal sleepwalking and bizarre games of hide & seek throw out clues and keep you guessing.
Particularly as both kids themselves are quietly traumatised following the departure of their flighty father.
All this is delicately handled by Shyamalan, confidently making a savvy, scary, funny and heartbreaking triumph – aided by committed performances from the four principles (even Tyler’s love of rapping works).
Yet, he seems to have accidentally stumbled across the first two-thirds of a great movie. This is the only explanation for a hokey, undisciplined and exploitative third act shift that turns all that promise to ash.
Stating in interview he went small scale to retain full directorial control, blame for the outrageous logic-garroting twists, hackneyed fright-wig histrionics and ridiculous gross-out moments must be laid at his door.
Instead of The Visit, we recommend the similarly themed under-seen gem The Harvest – UK title: Can’t Come Out To Play.
Watch that and try to forget that Shyamalan has two more movies in development. Shouldn’t this long Night of misfires be over by now?
NOTE: TRAILER CONTAINS SPOILERS