I love the found footage genre of horror films. In the days where we are constantly filming everything it gives these movies an unsettling and familiar visual style. But when done badly they can be utterly confusing barf fests that just leave people annoyed at the end of it. Luckily star director M. Night Shyamalan and the producers of Paranormal Activity have made something better than your standard Blair Witch knock off.
This review will contain some mild spoilers about plot moments
We start the movie being introduced to our main characters, the brother and sister team Becca and Tyler who will be our camera operators for most of the movie. One thing that struck me straight away was that these characters are impossibly quirky for real people. They do have some believable personal moments throughout but a lot of their dialogue just doesn’t seem right for their age. The basic premise is that they are going to stay with their grandparents for a week that they’ve never met before because their mother left home on very bad terms with them.
Becca is an aspiring filmmaker and wants to make a documentary so she can finally get the real story on why the family is estranged. She also hopes she can get some closure for her mother and maybe mend some bridges along the way. We get some fun moments during their train journey but we also get the first instance of the movie’s most cringey recurring joke, Tyler’s amateur rapping. I’m all for moments of comedy in horror films, it can provide much needed levity when things get tough to watch but this white kid’s rapping sucks. M. Night clearly thought this was hilarious for some reason because it’s revisited about 4 times.
So anyway the kids are greeted at the train station by their grandparents, referred to as Nana and Pop Pop for the rest of the movie. There is a general air of uneasiness at first but the kids put it down to everyone meeting each other for the first time. The kids bake cookies with Nana, get a tour of the house with Pop Pop and eventually settle in for the night. This is when Pop Pop tells the kids the one house rule “Bedtime here is 9:30. It’s probably best if you two shouldn’t come out of your room after that. See you in the morning”.
What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse
About an hour later Becca decides she can probably sneak down to get some more cookies without disturbing anyone so sets out with her camera. As she starts going downstairs Nana walks into frame and starts projectile vomiting, understandably Becca freaks out and gets the hell out of there. Next morning she speaks to Pop Pop about it who explains is away as a 24 hour stomach bug. This is pretty much the format of the movie, it’s a lot like Paranormal Activity in that way. Each new day there’s a title card so you know how many days the kids have left to endure and most of the scary stuff happens at night. I like this day/night format because I can get all anxious and excited for what crazy stuff is going to happen that night, then you are relieved when you see it’s daytime again.
As you can imagine things escalate every night. Nana is extremely creepy, she runs around the house at night naked scratching at the walls and banging doors. I think at first you’re supposed to think she’s possessed but again Pop Pop explains this away as sundowning, which is a form of heightened dementia that sets in once the sun goes down. Deanna Dunagan who plays Nana is really impressive, the way she crawls around and growls with her hair over her face is horrifying and she’s scarily nimble for a 76 year old. It’s the kind of character that you don’t even want to look at but you can’t tear your eyes away because you want to know she’s going to do next.
What a Twist!
Knowing that this is an M. Night Shyamalan horror movie most people will be on the lookout for a plot twist. Disappointingly I did guess part of the twist while I was watching but it didn’t invalidate the rest of the movie for me, I still wanted to see how it all turned out.
This felt like a pretty personal project for M. Night, it has a really small cast of characters and I felt like Becca represented the young filmmaker in him. It also a much smaller movie than he’d been making recently and it has an incredible short cast list. I liked this aspect of it because you got to spend a lot of time with the important people and it gave him more time to linger on interpersonal moments when the movie needed it.
This movie really preyed on my fears of old people, it had some genuinely scary and unsettling moments. There were also some fairly disturbing moments involving an adult diaper which I’d like to forget. In contrast to the horror it also had some pretty effective moments of heart and introspection from the kids which work surprisingly well. I liked The Visit way more that I thought I would and while parts of it may have been formulaic I came away satisfied with the ending… until they had Tyler rap again over the credits!
Tyler’s Rapping: ☆☆☆☆☆