THE VISIT. Starring: Olivia De Jonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, and Peter McRobbie, and Kathryn Hahn. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Rated M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language). 94 min.
This is an American horror film about two children, who are sent by their mother to be with their grandparents, whom they have never seen. After spending a little time in their new home, the children come to the conclusion that things are happening in the isolated farm-house, and in the shed next to it, that are most unusual.
In horror movies, it is often strangers who are possessed by evil and deliver it to others. Children are sometimes possessed when their parents or loved ones don't understand why that might be the case, and evil deeds are often done by a dead person who returns from the dark world after being asked to do so by an unsuspecting, or unknowing person. There are many different versions of these kinds of scenarios, but it is relatively unusual to have a film about two children having to battle something in people, who, we are told, should be looking after them much more nicely. The problem is illustrated by the by-line of the movie, which is: "No one loves you like your grandparents" - grandparent-love in this movie has more than one meaning.
The film is potentially unsettling, in that it makes children unwilling victims of people they love, need, or depend upon. In the movie, teenage Rebecca (Olivia De Jonge) and her younger brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), spend seven days in the house of their grandparents, Doris (Deanna Dunagan) and John (Peter McRobbie). Their mother (Kathryn Hahn), who is long-separated from their father, has sent them there at their grandparents' request, although she has not spoken to her parents for 15 years.
Strange things start to happen almost immediately. Forbidden to leave their room late at night, Rebecca and Tyler eventually ask their mother, who is on vacation, to take them away. Enjoying herself, she doesn't understand what is happening, so the children decide to cope as best they can with the evil lurking around them, until their last night.
M. Night Shyamalan is the director who gave us the remarkable "Sixth Sense" (1999). In that movie, an 8yr. child is haunted by a dark secret, and is visited by ghosts. Possession is a recurrent theme in a number of fine movies that flirt with the supernatural, but this movie is different in a number of ways. It aims unusually to be a comedy-horror movie about what can happen when fun-and-adventure-loving children are forced to spend a week with their aged, presumed loving, grandparents. Here, Shyamalan trades the unnerving tension of "The Sixth Sense" for situations intended to raise laughter as well as terror, and the combination of the comic and the scary works for some scenes much better than it does for others.
In this film, a good Director plays ambitiously with mixing themes and genres. Comedy can sit well with horror, as it did in the Australian movie, "100 Bloody Acres" (2012), but the mix can be a precarious one and it is a combination that can go off the rails. The children's' easy, often comic, relationship with each other becomes a foil to the grandparents' bizarre behaviour. One gross, objectionable scene (that evoked strong audience reaction) signals to viewers that the grandparents are insane, rather than possessed by evil spirits. The movie is caught between being an intriguing drama about odd, horrifying behaviour, and one that aims to raise a smile.
The photography is interesting, because the film records events mostly through a camera held by the children, and their camera does the snooping, which is reminiscent of the recent horror film, "The Gallows" (2015). The children are intent on filming their own documentary of what happens, and they want their movie to have "visual tension". The device is distracting, until the film picks up pace when a surprise twist in the plot-line brings the children's' mother nervously rushing back.
This film is classified "M" which is purely an advisory rating. For the reasons given, it seems best for parents to keep their children at home on this one.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released September 24, 2015