Plot twist master pays horror aVisit
There won’t be many directors who came out of the blocks with as impressive a double act as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.
M Night Shyamalan undoubtedly captured film fans’ imaginations with his innovative, twisty first two features and, though follow-ups Signs and The Village were more flawed, here was a man with the movie world at his feet in the mid-noughties.
Alas, from 2006’s Lady in the Water onwards, the one-time visionary appeared to be losing the plot, with duds The Happening and The Last Airbender among the worst movies I’ve ever had to sit through.
It’s fair to say, then, that Shyamalan could do with a hit and the Indian-born director returns to the genre that made him famous with horror The Visit.
For the most part this is a found-footage tale of terror that sees brother and sister Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and Becca (Olivia DeJonge) sent to stay with their grandparents for a week, with Becca deciding to make a documentary on her elderly hosts.
To say too much else would spoil the fun but, needless to say, this doesn’t pan out as your average family visit as things take a dark turn.
Though he’s not exactly breaking new ground, Shyamalan returns to something like his early career form by going back to basics.
Some may roll their eyes at yet another entry to the bloated found-footage horror back catalogue and while Becca, like many others before her, inexplicably continues to film everything despite the increasing chaos around her, Shyamalan proves he hasn’t lost his gift to get under an audience’s skin.
His biggest masterstroke was to terrify his teens with dear old Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) rather than a knife-wielding killer or supernatural boogeyman.
He taps into our fears of getting old and the impact age has on our bodies, coaxing impressive turns from veterans Dunagan and McRobbie.
Relative newcomers Oxenbould and DeJonge do a good job too; not just screaming and cowering in terror during the scarier moments, but also showing genuine heartache at the diabolical developments of their stay with their grandparents.
Shyamalan also penned the screenplay and wisely breaks the skin-crawling tension with a few well-placed laughs here and there.
And while his use of some familiar horror tropes – projectile vomiting – feel lazily shoehorned in, you can’t beat the helpless dread created by our protagonists being stuck within an isolated farmhouse in the snow.
This being Shyamalan, of course there’s a twist – and it’s a surprising, effective one that leads to fruitful jump scares.
The Visit won’t win any prizes for originality, but no Razzies are likely to follow either. Shyamalan can’t be written off just yet.
Not-so-warm welcome Dunagan’s Nana brings the fear