After a considerable slump with “The Last Airbender,” and “After Earth,” Shyamalan gives us yet another humanistic, demented, mystery that is filled with his trademark themes about life and coming of age. In this case, it’s young Becca and Tyler, both of whom are still healing from a broken marriage that saw their father leave them years before we meet them. Cut like a mock documentary, Shyamalan tailors the film to give us more of a personal view in to the dilemma Becca and Tyler find themselves in, and what it ultimately means in their development as adults.
“The Visit” is centered on Tyler and Becca, the latter of whom is a budding filmmaker. After gaining contact with their mother’s long lost parents, they insist on visiting them for a week. Their mom is against it, as she is still enduring some unresolved problems from her youth involving them, but Becca mainly sees the visit as an opportunity to film a documentary about her family coming together. Shyamalan is very good at unfolding the mystery beginning the film with a darkly comedic tone that gradually descends in to madness the more we follow Tyler and Becca. When they meet their grandparents, Tyler and Becca intend on using the opportunity to complete the film. But when they begin displaying odd and often eccentric behavior, the pair of siblings become determined to figure out what is happening in the seemingly wholesome house.
Shyamalan completely loses the gloss and plays on color in favor of a starker, grim sort of cautionary tale. It works, especially as we slowly get to know Tyler and Becca and realize that deep down they’re also hiding their own scars that eventually rise in to surface as they try to figure out what is happening to their grandparents. Shyamalan is skilled in turning the screws on both young characters, setting down on a seemingly innocuous wholesome farm that steadily becomes a playground for pure and utter terror. Shyamalan balances the lunacy of the situation with a lot of well placed and often well timed dark comedy that keeps the tension loose. “The Visit” accomplishes some very well earned laugh out loud moments, as well as aiming for many moments of uneasy and uncomfortable laughter as well.
The characters we meet are just children at heart, and act as genuine children right until the very horrific climax. This offers the audience a chance to see how they respond to the inherent menace of their predicament with a giggle or a one liner, while Shyamalan is in the background amping the terror up every minute. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are excellent as the enigmatic grandparents John and Doris who seem harmless at first glance. Shyamalan wisely casts Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge, both of whom carry the film well with portrayals of likable if flawed individuals that garner baggage they’re forced to confront as they come to realize their situation. “The Visit” is really the highlight of a year filled with stellar horror films. It’s brutally creepy, funny, and packs a meaningful message about forgiveness.