Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable) and producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, The Purge and Insidious series) welcome you to Universal Pictures’ The Visit. Shyamalan returns to his roots with the terrifying story of a brother and sister who are sent to their grandparents’ remote Pennsylvania farm for a weeklong trip. Once the children discover that the elderly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing, they see their chances of getting back home are growing smaller every day. Shyamalan produces The Visit through his Blinding Edge Pictures, while Blum produces through his Blumhouse Productions alongside Marc Bienstock (Quarantine 2: Terminal). Steven Schneider (Insidious) and Ashwin Rajan (Devil) executive produce the thriller.
The rise and fall of the career, perception, and success of M. Night Shyamalan is one for the history books. In 1999 he unexpectedly exploded onto the big screen with the surprise hit. 'The Sixth Sense' was an anomaly, a horror movie that was able to reel in audiences of all ages and demographics. His next two films were well received, but it all went downhill from there. Over that time, Shyamalan is said to have burned bridges with all the studios with which he worked. Rumor has it that his ego got wildly out-of-control. Even then, he has still been able to find someone to back and finance his movies. Business has been bad. The movies have been bad – but that just might be a thing of the past. 'The Visit' isn't perfect and it certainly doesn't stand up against 'The Sixth Sense,' 'Unbreakable' or 'Signs,' but it's a step in the right direction for the once-great director. I, for one, am excited to see where he goes from here.
I'm hesitant to use the phrase "found footage" to describe the visit. Because of the negative connotations that come with the style. I can only recall a single found footage movie that I enjoyed - 'Cloverfield.' Nearly all of the others have been pure garbage. So, instead of looking at 'The Visit' as a found footage movie – which it's technically not – let's call it what it really is: a documentary made by one of its leading fictional characters.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) is a teenager with aspirations of becoming a successful and artsy documentary filmmaker. Every documentarian looks for interesting stories to tell, and hers lie very close to home. When her mother (Katheryn Hahn) was a teenager, she fell in love with a man that her parents didn't like. She was so head-over-heels for this boy that she hastily ran away and left her parents' rural Pennsylvania farm to be with him. From that day on, she never talked to her parents again. Two kids and one divorce later, her parents reach out to her via email, hoping to rekindle the relationship just enough for them to finally be able to meet their grandchildren. Surprisingly, Becca's mom agrees, and this is what she believes will be the perfect subject for her first documentary.
Becca has a younger brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who aspires to be a freestyle rapper. My immediate reaction to Tyler's character was a disdainful eye roll. I didn't think I would like the movie solely because of him. His rapping character trait is undeniably an annoying one, but it actually offers quite a bit of calm comedic relief. It surprisingly feels like what M. Night used to do with his earlier successful films. Although I wasn't initially on-board with him, Tyler certainly grows to be a lot more enjoyable in-person than he is on page.
When Becca and Tyler arrive at the train depot to meet their grandparents, they're not surprised by how loving the two elderly folks are. They immediately get along well and look forward to spending a full week getting to know one another. The only thing that they dislike about their first day together is how far out into the countryside their grandparents live. There's not a neighbor in sight. There's no cell phone service. And the patchy wired cable ethernet connection makes life harder. Of course, these things allow us to get away from asking the usual horror movie question, "why don't they just call the police on their cell phones," but it works here.
While all initially seems well in the farm house, it doesn't stay that way for long. Grandpa, a.k.a. "Pop Pop" (Peter McRobbie), frequently seems confused and disoriented. On top of that, he has a mystery shack out in the middle of his field where he's seen entering and exiting daily in a very sneaky and suspicious manner. Grandma, a.k.a. Nana (Deanna Dunagan), has a weird nighttime habit that not only terrifies Becca and Tyler into locking their bedroom door each night, but also makes them set the ground rule of not leaving the bedroom past 9:30 P.M. What once seemed like a perfect week-long trip with their grandparents is about to turn into a horrifying and traumatic experience that will scar them for the rest of their lives - assuming they can make it out alive.
'The Visit' isn't perfect. There are a few things that I would've changed. But it's not at all a bad horror movie, especially despite being a PG-13 rated one. It's not M. Night's greatest work, but it's his greatest work in over a decade. It's a step in the right direction, a warmly welcomed return to form. It features a great balancing blend of sometimes-comedic, calm-before-the-storm lightweight fluff leading up to scare-you-out-of-your-pants freakiness. It's a horror movie through and through, so unlike 'The Sixth Sense,' it's not going to pull in mainstream demographics, but it should still very much please those who like a nice intense horror/thrillers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has given 'The Visit' a fully-loaded combo pack release that includes BD-50 and DVD discs, as well as a code for the redemption of both Ultraviolet and iTunes HD digital copies. The discs and slip are included in a blue two-disc Elite keepcase with an embossed cardboard slipcover. Upon inserting the disc, a skippable Universal reel plays prior to "fresh" streaming trailers and the static, music-set main menu.
'The Visit' arrives on Blu-ray with a nearly perfect 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Just because the movie is meant to be a homemade documentary shot by a teenager with affordable home-use cameras, it doesn't mean that it's of low quality. Aside from a few scenes that place our central characters in terrifying run-for-your-life scenarios, it doesn't carry a shaky feel. The contrast doesn't fluctuate between settings. The colorization and brightness are consistent. The only issue to arise is banding. A few shots from within a light-less room during the climax feature small bands on the walls and ceiling of the room - but aside from that, 'The Visit' is a wonderful presentation of digital cinema.
Most of the movie is set beneath a gray and clouded Pennsylvania winter sky. Despite the overall gray and snow-white palette of the film, there are occasional bursts of vibrant colorization, especially within the similar sweaters that Becca and her mom wear. With focal racking much better than any teenager would realistic be able to accomplish, the crystal clear imagery allows plenty of fine details and textures to be show. The touch of the patterns on those same bright sweaters can visually be felt because of the film's great resolution.
Had 'The Visit' followed suit with typical found-footage qualities, then it wouldn't be nearly as strong as it is; however, the documentary angle of the movie gives it a great excuse for being well shot and visually pleasing.
'The Visit' is accompanied by a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's good, but not quite as lively as you might expect. On one side, that's a good thing because it means that the movie doesn't rely on its sound for scares; on the other side, it's not quite as immersive and effective as it could be.
I can't be too harsh on the lack of sound with 'The Visit' because of its faux documentary style and the fact that it's set at a very secluded farm. Uneventful until the evening and nightime scenes, there's insufficient source material to make this an exemplary audio mix.
Having said that, 'The Visit' plays with sound in detailed fashion whenever opportunity presents itself. One small enclosed setting is filled with flies. The sound of thousands of buzzing wings can be heard dynamically passing about the room in waves and pulses. Outdoor scenes brings the same amount of detail, but with subtlety. Birds can be heard seamlessly flying around the rafters of a barn while the structure creaks due to the heavy wind outside. A walk through the woods features an entirely off-screen gaggle of geese migrating from one side of the room to the other. Also entirely off-screen during a patio-set scene, wind chimes can be heard from one side of the room dinging in the breeze.
Dialog is loud, 100 percent clear and mostly focused in the front. Aside from a creative musical cue used at the end of the movie, there's no score or music. A few thunderous effects are applied at the end to heighten the tension and one lightning crack is obviously used in place of scoring to accent a flashy jump moment. For the most part, the movie is capable of conjuring scares entirely with its screenplay.
M. Night Shyamalan may not be back to the home run-hitting stape he was in at the beginning of his career, but 'The Visit' is a promising step in the right direction that returns him to his origins. Certain to ruin relationships between kids and their grandparents across the globe, 'The Visit' tells the creepy story of two kids who spend a week with their grandparents for the very first time, only to learn that their grandparents are nuts and potentially dangerous. The cheap tricks of modern horror movies (loud noises, graphic imagery, etc.) are completely missing in this freaky flick. Accompanying the thrills are lightweight moments that make you laugh just seconds prior to being scared, making the peaks of the thrills seem that much higher next to the downtime. The video quality is fantastic and the sound quality gets the job done. Most of the special features aren't worth checking out, with the exception of a making-of that features Shyamalan openly discussing the highs of his career and the reason for the lows. Being a huge fan of Shyamalan's first four films, 'The Visit' is a solid return to form that's worlds better than anything he's done since 'The Village.'