The problem with The Visit is that it’s just a little bit too self-aware. In trying to make the found footage gimmick more organic they wind up sacrificing a lot of the tension built by the grandparents in favour of some meta jokes delivered by the kids. It was a clever idea to fold the found footage conceit into the narrative, but it comes at the cost of drama.”
Despite this though, The Visit is teeming with tension. The uncertainty is palpable throughout, and is shovelled on thick by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie as the grandparents. They tapdance down the line between tragic and terrifying, and never let the horror seem trite or tedious. And they do it all with a keen wit, always keeping the audience guessing as to how much their characters are really aware of. They also do their best to sell the markedly overt jump scares as genuine narrative progression.
The kids, played by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould serve mostly to break that tension. Rebecca (played by DeJonge) is a young, aspiring filmmaker shooting a documentary about her estranged grandparents while Tyler (Oxenbould) is her gregarious younger brother – an aspiring rapper. They are both precocious to a slightly unbelievable degree and sometimes seem to act with a level of self-awareness rarely seen in kids their age.
But all that said, they are both excellent actors, with DeJonge shouldering most of the film’s emotional weight when the comic relief starts to peter out and the fear sets in. Oxenbould get a few moments to shine but mainly provides comic relief.
The movie gets a little shaky when the truth finally does unravel. M. Night Shyamalan has an annoying habit of making pointed callbacks to previously established cruxes, as if he once read a book on hooks in storytelling and is making no effort to hide his formula. It’s a little jarring if you’ve been paying attention – as if the filmmaker is suddenly hitting you with a pop quiz. It also makes the narrative conclusion feel more like the end to a children’s fable. But it doesn’t ruin the movie.
Kathryn Hahn does a way above par job of investing us in the story from the jump – despite most of her scenes being exposition dumps direct to camera. She infuses a simple backstory with enough pathos that we can get as invested in these kids as she is. She also effortlessly sells that kind of all-consuming stubbornness we all reserve only for our parents, immediately snapping the audience into the right frame of mind for the unfolding story.
For all its self-aware meta-narrative storytelling, The Visit is a powerful, old school horror movie – full of genuine psychological fear and a simple, affecting story about family and forgiveness. But it’s hard not to wonder how much better it might have been had it just been shot without the found-footage gimmick.