Nov 6, 2015 Film & TV
And after years of po-faced dreck like The Happening and After Earth, Will Smith’s attempts to make a star of his questionably talented son Jaden, Shyamalan has finally loosened up. His latest effort mixes scares and laughs while avoiding the tiresome self-referentiality that besets so much comedy horror.
It’s far from an earth-shattering set-up. Two young siblings are stuck in a remote farmhouse (beyond cellular coverage, we’re repeatedly reminded — uh-oh) as the behaviour of Nana and Pop-Pop, the grandparents they’d never previously met, progresses from merely odd to something altogether more sinister.
Older sister Becca is making a documentary, which means The Visit is an addition to the crowded sub-genre of “found footage” horror. Luckily for us, Becca appears to be a preternaturally gifted filmmaker. Her establishing shots of wintry Pennsylvania countryside are strikingly beautiful and she’s able to keep the camera from shaking in all but the most strenuous circumstances — such as seeing Nana stumbling around the hallway, projectile vomiting as she goes.
The Visit extracts lots of comic mileage from the physical ramifications of old age and the yawning gap that separates tech-savvy kids from their fogey grandparents. There are nods to horror classics such as The Exorcist and The Ring and an oven-cleaning gag that hilariously references Hansel and Gretel’s visit to the witch’s house.
At its heart is the loving but mercifully unsentimental relationship between Becca (Australian actress Olivia DeJonge) and her younger brother Tyler, an adolescent smart-arse played to scene-stealing perfection by 14-year-old Ed Oxenbould, also an Australian. Even a sappy coda can’t spoil Shyamalan’s fun, and often genuinely frightening, return to form.