“The Visit” is a found footage horror film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan that follows two siblings who film their weeklong stay with their estranged grandparents whom they have never met. This film is a noteworthy addition to the found footage genre due in large part to the film’s attachment of M. Night Shyamalan, enabling The Visit to enjoy true break-out success in main-stream Hollywood.
The Visit opens with fifteen-year old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her thirteen-year old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) preparing to visit their estranged maternal grandparents, while their single mom (Kathryn Han) enjoys a vacation with her boyfriend. “Mom,” as she’s called in the film, drops her two children off at the train station, making sure they safely board before leaving on her getaway. Upon arrival, the two children are met by their grandparents who escort Becca and Tyler back to their mom’s childhood home. During their weeklong stay, Becca films everything with the intent of creating a documentary for her mom.
At first, the two siblings enjoy their vacation – exploring the house their mom grew up in and learning about her childhood. All the while, Becca and Tyler feel that something is not quite right. Their grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) exhibit increasingly odd behavior. Even more disturbing is the nightly 9:30 PM curfew set by Pop Pop, during which time the two children are instructed not to leave their room till morning. Each night after 9:30 PM Becca and Tyler hear unearthly sounds coming from behind their locked bedroom door, fearful of what may lie on the other side.
When the two siblings question their mom about the bizarre conduct of Pop Pop and Nana during their daily video chat sessions, she assures her kids that Pop Pop and Nana are just getting old, and old people sometimes act strange.
As the week progresses, the situation deteriorates from amusingly strange to possibly dangerous for the two siblings. One thing is for sure – this is a family reunion Becca and Tyler will remember for the rest of their lives.
Found Footage Cinematography
The Visit employs three video camera sources, two handheld video cameras and a smart phone camera used used for video chat sessions. The cinematography is generally good for a found footage film, but as discussed in the found footage purity section below, the filming technique feels a bit too refined and professional for a home movie.
To the film’s credit, The Visit utilizes multiple techniques to capture footage, including having characters holding handheld video cameras; placing the handheld video cameras in fixed locations to capture whole room perspectives; and video chat sessions to capture remote conversations. The composite of these three filming techniques effectively communicates the story without feeling forced.
Another aspect of the cinematography The Visit does well is the distinction between the filming techniques of Becca versus Tyler. Becca films more deliberately and has more experience using a video camera, while Tyler is more haphazard in his approach, often playing with the video camera and filming subject matter one would expect from a young child.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity employed in The Visit is exceptional, but not perfect. The character Becca wields the video camera for the vast majority of the film – the issue lies in the fact that during most of the filming the camera is held far too steady and the filming technique is too “perfect,” making the end product more akin to a Hollywood film rather than the efforts of a novice filmmaker. In this sense, the found footage cinematography comes across as slightly unnatural.
The Visit includes a few scenes that appear to break found footage, such as establishing shots of the moon each night, but even these scenes can still fall within the realm of found footage if we are to assume Becca films those shots during her stay and stitched them into the final product. The Visit includes scenes where Becca is seen editing daily footage to substantiate this approach.
The film also includes some very subtle sound design during specific scenes to ramp up the tension. To the film’s credit, The Visit uses the sound design very strategically and subtly so not to draw undue attention.
The filming reason used throughout most of The Visit is straight forward – the main protagonist, Becca, is filming everything that transpires during their stay so she can compile a documentary for her mom. Coupled with this filming reason, Becca provides her brother, Tyler, with a second handheld video camera she brought with her. The footage from both video cameras is stitched together to form the final product. In order to maintain a plausible filming reason for dangerous circumstances where a person would normally not film, The Visit opts to use handheld cameras that are placed in fixed locations, such as counter tops, tables, or shelves.
Acting and Plot
The acting in The Visit is very good – Olivia DeJonge as Becca does a wonderful job as the mature teenager who is looking out for her younger brother and trying to create a documentary. She displays just the right amount of restrained deference to the grandparents whom she clearly doesn’t trust, but feels compelled to obey, because they are the adults and guardians. Ed Oxenbould performs wonderfully as the rebellious younger brother, who spends a good amount of the film horsing around, but seems to be more acutely aware that something strange is going on well before his older sister, but is unable to convince her otherwise until it’s almost too late.
Deanna Dunagan performs admirably as Nana, the loving grandmother with what can only be described (without spoilers) as having issues that cause her to behave erratically, both emotionally and physically. Peter McRobbie as Pop Pop convincingly portrays both grandfather and loving husband, but also shows a dark side that is convincingly terrifying and foreboding.
While the plot of The Visit is straightforward, we can’t delve too deeply into the story without revealing spoilers and potentially ruining some of the many gut-wrenchingly funny scenes the film has to offer. The Visit has several significant reveals that “make the movie,” as well as setups for some of the more humorous moments. Unlike other found footage films that are more about the protagonists’ journey, The Visit relies on setups and surprises that work well during the first watch, but are likely to have less of an impact during subsequent watches after the spoilers are revealed. That said, the film has some very creepy moments and lots of fun filled scenes, especially with Ed Oxenbould’s character who delivers some great physical comedy and dialog.