The Visit: What You Need To Know
There was a time – the back end of 1999 to be precise – when M. Night Shyamalan was being touted as one of the most promising new filmmakers in Hollywood. His first two feature films - 1992's Praying With Anger and 1996's Wide Awake - were low-key affairs that barely moved the needle on the box office cash-o-meter, but then came his breakthrough, The Sixth Sense, a huge hit which raked in more than $290 million and marked the director as one of the film industry's most exciting new talents.
Maybe he was a victim of his own hype, but although there have been periodic success stories in the years that followed – 2002's Signs being a notable example – his films have suffered from dwindling audiences, while the director himself steadily became something of a hate figure for critics, who routinely panned films like The Lady in the Water and The Happening, the latter featuring a storyline that involved Mark Wahlberg fighting with evil plants. By the time his last feature film After Earth arrived in 2013, studios seemed to be handling Shyamalan as if he was box office poison; you'd have needed a magnifying glass to find his name on the promotional posters.
However, in the last couple of years the director has begun to claw back some of the respect he once enjoyed, largely thanks to his excellent, Twin Peaks-esque series Wayward Pines, which exhibits plenty of the potential he once showed and has gone some way to silencing the critics who once slated him.
From there, Shyamalan moved onto his next film, shot in just 30 days in total secrecy, away from the prying eyes of Hollywood in his hometown backwoods of Pennsylvania, under a false working title and for a relatively modest budget. The resulting film, The Visit, is a 'found footage' style horror-thriller which performed admirably when it hit cinema screens last year and gathered largely positive reviews. It's due to arrive in stores on Monday (January 11th) and it might just be his best film for a long time. Here's everything you need to know...
Who's in it?
Shyamalan has taken something of a back-to-basics approach here and as such there aren't many big names attached – in fact the cast is very small, with the main parts played by the young, little-known pair of Australian actors Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould. The rest of the main cast is rounded out by Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie and Kathryn Hahn.
What's the plot?
DeJonge and Oxenbould take on the roles of Becca and Tyler, two siblings who are sent by their mother (Hahn) to visit her estranged parents, from whom she eloped as a teenager with one of her schoolteachers – the kids' father – and whom the children have never met.
The pair decide to take a video camera with them to film the trip, regularly communicating with their mother via video calls on their laptop. When they arrive, the grandparents (McRobbie & Dunagan) are very excited to meet them for the first time and encourage them to enjoy themselves and eat as much as they like. However, they are warned not to go near the basement, telling them that it contains toxic mould, and are told that their bedtime curfew is 9:30pm, adding that they are not to leave their rooms after that time.
When Becca wakes an hour after curfew and decides to venture downstairs to find food, she finds her grandmother projectile vomiting in the kitchen. When she mentions this to her grandfather the next day, he tells her it is a stomach virus and reiterates that under no circumstances should they leave their room after the 9:30 curfew.
As their grandparents' behaviour becomes more erratic, Becca and Tyler begin to suspect they are hiding something and decide to hide the camera downstairs to secretly film what they're getting up to. What they eventually discover is far more more disturbing than they could have imagined.
Does it deliver?
A key characteristic of Shayamalan's films is a twist in the tale and this is no exception – in the past, some of these have been telegraphed, but it's cleverly handled here. The back-to-basics, low-budget approach may have been a conscious attempt to replicate the success of films like It Follows and The Babadook – two films he has professed to really admiring – and to give credit where credit is due, it really works.
Credit must also go to the film's two young stars, who look to have a bright future ahead of them on this evidence. Even if you're not usually a fan of Shyamalan's films, if you've enjoyed some of the recent raft of low-budget horrors like those mentioned above, or others like The Purge and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, then this is definitely worth a look - chances are that you'l find yourself pleasantly surprised.