M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, Part II: Shit happens, but with precision

The author is behind an analysis project about M. Night Shyamalan‘s films. There are several articles on each: The Sixth Sense (1999, here, here and here), Unbreakable (2000, here, here and here), Signs (2002, here, here, here and here), The Village (2004, here, here and here), Lady in the Water (2006, here and here), The Happening (2008, here, here and here), The Last Airbender (2010, here and here), After Earth (2013, here and here), Split (2016, here, here, here, and here), Glass (2019, here), Old (2021, here). This is the second article on The Visit (2015), the first one is here. All the articles can also be accessed through this overview.


This second article on The Visit (2015), M. Night Shyamalan‘s most audacious film, will look at how it is dealing with and commenting upon the various challenges, conceits and conventions of the found footage genre, how it is sneaking in artificial elements of a sometimes highly technical nature, and its various techniques and consistency. Finally, it will round up a range of references and connections to the rest of his oeuvre and a few other films. (The first article is here.)

The Visit revolves around a week-long trip by 15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and 13-year-old Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) to their aged grandparents, affectionately called Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). The siblings have never met them before, due to a violent, irreparable rift with the children’s mother (Kathryn Hahn) fifteen years ago. The location is a remote farm, with no cellphone coverage, and Becca is determined to film as much as she can for a documentary, hoping for the visit to become a bridge to a broad family reconciliation.

I: The found footage conceit

Capping off a film of wild mood swings, there is a delightful collision between the seriousness and warmth of Becca’s last interview with her mother and Tyler’s hilarious rap performance during the end titles, which radiates a liberating “it’s only a movie” feeling, his lyrics retelling the children’s adventures in wonderfully irreverent fashion. The mood is now so light that the film becomes ambiguous – has what we have witnessed in The Visit been some kind of mockumentary? After all, these young teenagers have been in mortal danger, and Nana (and maybe Pop Pop too) was killed by one of them in a ferocious close-quarters struggle. As for their mother, she seems rather too calm and unscathed by a tragedy that could easily have resulted in her children’s death, not to speak of the news that both her parents have been murdered. Even after having been incommunicado for 15 years, it should still be a shock.

The fact that we now see Becca use a mirror, lovingly doing her make-up and brushing her hair, might indicate that she overcame her fear of them in the showdown with Nana – or that she was never afraid of them in the first place. The latter interpretation is encouraged by the credits rolling by, including the names of the actors, driving home the status of The Visit as a work of fiction.

The Visit is often, rather thoughtlessly, placed in the found footage genre. (This is an interesting article discussing it as such.) As long as all the footage was intended for Becca’s documentary right from the start, and especially since she is presented as highly dedicated and film-theoretically schooled, the film’s polished look and relatively artful organisation should not prevent it from being a found footage movie. Similar to Werner Herzog‘s documentary Grizzly Man (2005), someone else could have come across the footage, and in this case fulfilled the original maker’s intentions. (Becca is seen editing the film during the stay, so some of the work could already have been finished.) Thus, as for our immediate viewing experience and its believability, the fact that the film exists in a finished state does not necessarily mean that Becca and Tyler survived, so the suspense should not be ruined.

In this part of the genre landscape, there are quite a few categories to choose from: pseudo-documentary, mockumentary or the regular found footage type. (This article discusses The Visit and other “accidental” horror movies.) If it is a pseudo-documentary, ought we not, for example, to see the pretend-grandparents being alive, or the story at least having a clear resolution, rather than the ambiguous rap scene? There seems to be no established rule. Dadetown (Russ Hexter, 1995) reveals during the end titles that all of the supposedly real characters of the riveting true story were in fact played by actors. The Bay (Barry Levinson, 2012) uses a scrupulously documentary approach, editing together existing footage, for its horror story of the devastation of a whole town and does not reveal it as fiction like the other film, but instead indirectly lets on that it is made-up through the scroll of end credits. One could call The Bay a found footage movie too, perhaps, although the collection of material from a wide variety of sources would be unusual for that genre.

Precisely the credits question could be key. Super-low-budget found footage films like The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez, 1999) and Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007) do not have credits at all, and more professional films, where actors and crew would demand it, usually saves it all up for the end credits, so no tell-tale indication is given the audience at the start about the made-up nature of what they are about to see. The Borderlands (Elliot Goldner, 2013), for example, has no opening credits, only the film’s title, and lets more than twenty seconds pass from the last shot until the credits start appearing. As for pseudo-documentaries and mockumentaries, respectively The Bay and the famous This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984) have no opening credits either.

Maryse Alberti is an interesting choice, since she has prominently worked on small documentaries, and on two Todd Haynes films, the (partly) pseudo-documentary (Poison, 1991) and the documentary-like Velvet Goldmine (1998). Darren Aronofsky selected her for his fiction film The Wrestler (2008) due to her documentary background.

The Visit, however, does not care. Like any other feature film, names of actors and most important technical functions appear over three early scenes (in the car, at the railway station and on the train). Also, many movies nowadays skip opening credits, a fact that only underlines Shyamalan’s decision to be up-front about the made-up nature of his film. A counter-argument could be that coming into a genre that traditionally has been a low-budget entry point for unknown filmmakers as a firmly established director himself – hardly anyone else has attempted it than George A. Romero, although a more marginal figure in commercial terms, with Diary of the Dead (2008, no opening credits!) – there would be no use to try hiding the fact that this is a fiction film. The general cinema-goer will be less susceptible to matters of name recognition, however.

On the whole, perhaps it is more productive to look at The Visit as an exercise, adopting a set of restraints known from the above genres to set a creative challenge. This is a strategy often mentioned by Shyamalan – “I like limitations” – along the lines of how Hitchcock wanted Rope (1948) never to leave the apartment and shoot it to appear as one long take.

It is also tempting to look upon the film as a comment upon the conceits and conventions of especially the found footage film, including its fundamentally hilarious contrivances that people keep on filming even in desperately fraught situations and that cameras just happen to capture so much useful material. Perhaps the most satiric comment on the artificiality of those genres is the scene towards the end when the distraught kids are fleeing the house but doggedly still carrying their cameras, which ought to be dangling about and pointing all over the place, but nevertheless manage to catch everything that needs to be captured. (It does not hurt either for a low-budget production like The Visit that expectations for the technical level and the scope of the film will be adjusted to what a 15-year-old could achieve.)

So the challenge here would be that every shot must be explainable as being recorded by Becca and Tyler wielding their cameras, and in that department it is close to flawless, not surprisingly given Shyamalan’s utterly meticulous approach to filmmaking. Aside from that, The Visit is simply a fiction film about a 15-year-old girl attempting to make a documentary, inviting us to suspend our disbelief in the same manner as in a story about a bank heist or a weatherman getting caught in a time loop. If this author would be forced at gun-point to ascribe a genre, however, pseudo-documentary seems more fitting than mockumentary, since the latter is usually connected to satire, in a social context.

The cameras are almost extra characters, most clearly during the board game when it is sharing the table with the players.

A special characteristic for the above genres is that persons so often are addressing the camera, looking directly into it, when doing narrating or explanatory segments, a visual rhetoric that helps convince the audience that what they see is real, and a strategy totally at odds with regular fiction films where everyone pretends the camera is not present. It will also be an abundance of moving point-of-view shots, or rather subjective camera since the need to maintain the illusion that everything is simply filmed by the moving character holding a camera will prevent any occurrences of the classical Hitchcock mode of alternating a POV shot with a shot of the character doing the looking, like famously and hypnotically done in Psycho (1960):

The restraints are also encouraging long takes – with just one camera in most situations, the only analytical “editing” would have to be via cumbersome, attention-grabbing zooms – and thus the average shot length of The Visit suddenly rivals Shyamalan’s early period: its ASL of 16.26 seconds puts it in second place, after Unbreakable and before The Village. (Here is a complete list of shots that last 30 seconds or more.)

Here is a typical long shot situation, as a consequence of the format’s inability to cut to closer shots of the elders, unless using disruptive zooms, because the camera (just one here) must always stay with the children.

The Visit seems at times a satire, or at least a comment, on the ingredients of the found footage genre. Contrary to most of those films, striving for a dirty, random, often highly-unstable-camera look to suggest spontaneous, wholly unplanned footage, Shyamalan’s take on it is a beautiful film, especially considering that it is ostensibly made by a 15-year-old, however conscientious and talented. (The old footage from her earlier childhood looks more “found”.) The framings are generally steady and, with the exception of the chase during the hide-and-seek beneath the house, without “shaky-cam”. Further stability is provided by the quite a few stationary shots when the camera is put down on tables and floors.

Steps are often taken, however, to at least give a nod to the fact that the film is shot by handheld cameras by inexperienced operators, for example Tyler’s brutal zooming when he starts using his camera, and despite its generally polished, sleek feel, it does not give off a Steadicam feeling either. The generally polished look suits the concept of the film, however: in line with all the deception and pretense in the story, The Visit is a work that only pretends to be a found footage movie.

The Visit can also be said to comment on the artifice of the found footage genres through the fact that the children continue filming even in the most desperate of circumstances. This is so prevalent in this type of film, however, that it must be deemed a genre convention. Figuring into this for The Visit is also the fact that the footage might be used as evidence in a future trial or as proof even if they are killed, like the message that Becca puts on tape as soon as she finds the dead bodies in the basement. On the other hand, it seems a futile hope since the footage could easily be erased by the perpetrators, or in the case of the technologically non-savvy elders, the equipment might simply be destroyed.

Artifice and polish

One thing is certain: for a found footage film The Visit does not shy away from nice artistic and technical touches.

Becca’s (probably) undigested artistic ambition is reflected in an early, self-consciously artful shot: a distorted reflection, probably in a train carriage, of the grandparents hugging each other, laughing warmly, after the first greeting, on the station platform.
Distortions return towards the end, as the children are fleeing the house through the rain, and the coloured lights of the arriving police cars make it into a ghostly scene…
…this continues as the cars stop – it is almost abstract art.
The arriving cars have been filmed through a camera in Becca’s right hand but when they stop she drops it on the ground and now, with the usual distortions, Becca and Tyler run towards them. (Note her red sweater, yet an example of the importance of strongly coloured clothes to be able to make out what happens.) Becca keeps on carrying her left-hand camera, which soon captures the embrace between mother and children. The conceit that the cameras just happen to point in the right directions to catch all this, through this confusion and desperation as Becca, cameras in both hands, is hauling on the dazed Tyler, is of course preposterous.

This scene outside the house is masterful, exuberant yet solemn, filmed in a seemingly random way but comes across as very artificial and artistic. It takes the apparatus and framework of the found footage movie and transforms it into something else. The sense of artifice here is further elevated by the “rule-breaking” use of non-diegetic music, and a very odd one at that, discussed here. Scored music is seldom used in found footage films because it would undermine the idea of presenting the footage as unadorned.

The Visit also contains quite a few technical flourishes:

There is also a more local one, creating an elegant dissolve that conveys the transition between Becca at the computer and Becca having fallen asleep.

In addition to the above dissolves, there are other atmospheric shots of landscapes sprinkled throughout the film, often along with the “morning” chapter titles. Variations of the full moon appearing through naked trees are a favourite subject (although the fact that it seems to last from Monday to Friday is artistic licence and another subtle proof of the artificial nature of filmmaking).

The following slide show collects all of these shots:

The final moon shot also functions as a time-has-passed marker before the board game starts, with an added special foreboding since it is precisely the kind of night exterior shot the kids were prevented from going out to take, when Pop Pop closed the door on them. The late evening shot of the tree with the swing ominously creaking is another brilliant shot that Friday, in itself but also since it encourages a comparison to the carefree mood on the day the kids arrived. It is also notable that Friday morning is announced with a shot of hooks and sharp tools.

The end title sequence is an aesthetic pleasure and a mystical riddle in itself. Exactly when the music switches from hip hop to Tchaikovsky, places from the film are conjured up with ghostly magic, dissolving into each other, unveiled and veiled again, in a complex pattern floating from one side of the image to the other, always shrouded in the Tuesday morning fog, until we end up with the timber from early Friday morning, with the tree swing in the background. That image lingers for a while until it too, as if with regretful implacability, is gradually blacked out.

Tyler’s surreptitious, slow zoom-in on Becca during her emotionally fraught interview also comes across as artistic, in the way her face ends up half-banished from the frame, marginalised, and the emptiness in the composition, the road behind her, is allowed to loom much larger. It is as if the cold mechanics of the change of focal length is determining the artistic outcome, in a simultaneously studied and expressive manoeuvre:

The zoom starts as she looks down (when she cannot see what he is doing) exactly at the point that he brings up the fact that her sweater has been put on inside-out, because of her aversion to mirrors. (Mysteriously, the zoom ends a few seconds before the shot is over.)

As regards sound, the thunder on the last evening, which signals the pouring rain as the children later escape the house, is used to fine effect. Each time Nana appears behind Becca when they are shut in together is accompanied by a crack of thunder, and especially impactful is the sound, which here seems processed to make it more reverberating, when Pop Pop suddenly turns up around the corner with the dice for the board game.

Pop Pop comes skidding around the corner with body language like a ballet dancer, laughing wildly while shaking the dice.

Furthermore, The Visit employs a wholly artificial, but established cinematic trope for dramatic effect, using audio to conjure up smell: Tyler’s sight of the used diapers in the shed is accompanied by the sound of flies. As discussed in the first article, this could also be a natural occurrence, due to the warmer weather, which would also account for the thunder. The aforementioned visual distortions caused by rain is definitely a deliberately intended effect, so good thinking by Becca/Shyamalan to prepare us for it by inserting some thunder…!

Another established trope is exaggerated sound, namely the ominous creaking when the kids spot Stacey, the young woman who came by earlier, hanging dead from a tree; the sound would hardly be audible from a distance. More artificiality: Tyler’s voice is given an echo as he shouts for Becca after Nana has struck her yahtzee, and there is a ghostly sound over an exterior shot on Wednesday night before Nana’s sundowning. Also naturally occurring sounds are excellently used: somewhere, very discreetly, a church bell is ominously tolling while the kids run up from the platform for their first greeting with the “grandparents”, and there are crows in the background when they examine the footage of Nana’s interview.

There are instances of sophisticated editing. The first cut-away during Mom’s initial interview occurs after a very expansive hand movement, as if the gesture is pushing it into existence, where she is even walking a bit away, in the same direction as the hands. Also, when the kids enter the farmhouse for the first time, there is a nice cut on movement: the door is swinging in the same direction as the tree swing did at the end of the previous shot. Way to go, Becca!
The first two cut-aways during the interview show a quite artful use of foregrounded obstacles.
Another fine touch: there is a photograph of the real grandparents – allowing them a brief but nice moment of presence – together with their impostors. The camera glides along the photo, using a shallow focus from the fake to the real grandparents, as if a visual comment on Nana and Pop Pop’s plan: the two couples cannot exist on the same (focus) plane at the same time. (The photo must have been shot later and edited in, because it cannot of course have been on display during the visit; there were also some photos of the grandparents in the boxes near the bodies in the basement.)

There are also a number of foreshadowings and/or instances of structural or formal irony, revealing the planned nature of the film, the very opposite of the randomness of a found footage movie. Tyler’s performance over the end titles means that Becca has granted his request that “maybe I can rap at the end of your documentary” – she is announcing this on a terse text card before the rap – and his last words, “Shania Twain, bitches”, not only celebrates the film’s delightful running gag of substituting swearing with the names of female pop singers, but he also fulfils her misgiving on the train that “right, because that’s how all Oscar-winning documentaries end – with songs of misogyny”.

A tiny joke: it says “time is running out” on the computer behind him, during these dying seconds of the film.

Becca says: “I’ve decided to use Mom’s favorite musical soundtrack. It’s so over the top, it’ll be her presence in the documentary. Counter-point to the quiet drama. This’ll be ironic scoring.” But the irony is that she never could have expected to include such drama as the ferocious climax, so when it plays over the kids fleeing the house in the rain, it ends up being oddly appropriate and unironic, and what was intended as a kind-of-condescension towards Mom is now some sort of celebration of her. At the same time, the heightened drama of that music represents the essence of her flamboyant character, and it helps to further lift up the already overblown drama of this sequence.

At one point Becca says: “Old footage of us as kids. I was thinking of using it in the doc. I refuse to use anything that has my dad in it. That would mean I forgive him.” But at the end of The Visit it turns out she has given these clips a central place in a sequence expressing the healing of the whole family. The piano music over Mom’s second interview is yet another element she earlier swore to avoid: when Tyler points out that the footage of Becca and Nana holding hands makes him want to cry, she retorts: “Are you consciously aware that that’s my intention? I hate sappy movies. I find them torturous.” The irony here is that she learns that what she deemed cliches and too-obvious, in fact might be appropriate in highly emotional and dramatic situations. Now that she has lived through these types of events, she has evolved into a different view on what can be judged a cliché, and that her former attitude was purely intellectual. She has never experienced really strong emotions so when encountering them in movies, through music for example, she, an immature viewer, regards such devices as superficial and manipulative. And the scene where she embraces Mom is precisely “sappy”.

On a more local, short-term level, Pop Pop’s suggestion that the rest finishing the game without Nana is prophetic, since they will be involved in the final struggle in the kitchen. Note how exquisitely he is lit here, his face ghostly and bereft of human emotion.

Finally, the already discussed horror scenes during the hide-and-seek under the house and in Nana’s bedroom during the climax are examples of the visual tension that Becca earlier explained to Tyler.

Camera techniques

These are the four camera sources in The Visit:

  • two handheld cameras operated by Becca and Tyler
  • the camera on the children’s laptop, which is crucial in a key scene
  • the mother’s laptop, used from home and on the cruise

Below are some typical ways that the action is captured, and the methods/contrivances involved. In many cases, the camera is in the right place by magical coincidence, or after superhumanly quick and professional calls by the children as putting down the camera in the right direction.

Probably out of respect for the grandparents and to preserve the spontaneity of the first greeting without having to ask permission to film, Becca leaves the camera on top of the luggage and records the event in extreme long shot.
When Tyler discovers the pile of used diapers in the shed, he storms out…
….then he appears to lose the camera, which lands in a way that not only can capture Tyler himself falling, but also Nana turning up, having observed the incident.
In the next scene a patient and loveable Nana explains Pop Pop’s problem with incontinence, where the fixed camera on a table gives the scene a tranquility and a respectful distance that suits the hushed mood and delicate topic – a sign of clear directorial intent from Tyler.
Just after arrival, disappointed with the childish bed, Tyler tries to claim the big one. Becca puts the camera down on it, and it is magically in an ideal position to record the rock-paper-scissors game that will decide the issue.
Here is another one-camera scene where it is put down to catch the action, but in a more complex situation, with several camera operators. Pop Pop runs to attack the innocent bystander, while Becca follows him, and puts the camera down before hurrying over to stop Pop Pop…
…and then Tyler walks back to pick it up and continues to film himself while they lead Pop Pop to the car.
Here is some humour involved as regards the difficulty of keeping a character nicely in the frame: Becca realises Pop Pop is decentred in the frame, so she adjust the placement rightwards, but then Pop Pop positions himself too much to the left so he remains decentred…
…then she adjusts it again, while crossing the axis to place herself on the right side of the camera, but he stubbornly remains abnormally placed. This could of course also be a visual metaphor of his mental state.
Here the camera has a full-on surveillance function, in a brilliant, 53-second one-take scene. The sun helps create a peaceful idyll, the atmosphere strengthening the coming jump scare as Becca bursts out of the door to frighten Tyler. (This is revenge for him scaring her from under the house two days earlier, but also to put him in his place since their relationship has become edgier.) Tyler ought to have spotted the camera, perhaps, and figured out that Becca was up to something.
Surveillance camera again, but here Nana usurps it for her own purposes. After repeatedly banging the door (upper left image) – curiously, the same one as in the above jump scare; could this be foreshadowing of a new one to come? – she carries the camera up to the second floor and puts it on the floor, where it captures her approaching the door of the children’s room with a knife. It is of course ludicrous that she would be able to make “directorial” decisions like this while in the grip of the sundowning. In the middle we get the electrifying jump scare when Nana suddenly shoots up into the frame, somehow well aware that this will be seen by the children later. This scene features some nice cross-cutting between Nana’s low camera and a high-vantage camera inside the room, the stability of those positions forming a nice counterpoint to the sinister situation.
Here we are the in basement immediately after Becca has discovered the dead bodies: she turns the camera on herself to record a message that might help the police later, and it happens to point the right way to elegantly and chillingly catch Pop Pop’s arrival over her shoulder. Note that Becca manages to keep the camera in the right direction even after he has announced she is found out. (Here there is dark amusement since her “my name is Becca Jamison; if you find this footage…” is interrupted, with great timing, by his “my name is Mitchel” in a conversational, relaxed tone, as if this were a polite first-time greeting.)
Upstairs, the other camera too is somehow able to efficiently capture the action as Pop Pop is marching Becca up to her prison upstairs, while Tyler has been knocked out.
There is a powerful meta moment as Becca employs precisely her camera as an instrument of liberation, using it as a club to break the lock so she can escape the room after having defeated Nana. Three times she lifts it high over her head, with the first time depicted above (with the camera light pointing into the ceiling on the way up and down). As usual with Shyamalan, the movement is realistically detailed, and each time the camera also includes her face, the first time even in focus. These movements go quite fast and are basically just a blur to the audience, but Shyamalan insists on getting it right.
This is the above shot turned on its head, so we can savour Becca’s incredible fighting face, this “invisible” image one of her greatest moments in the film.

Camera consistency

There is nothing new with the use of multiple cameras covering a scene in found footage films. In for example The Borderlands, investigators from the Vatican trying to verify a miraculous event are instructed to always have cameras mounted on them so not the tiniest detail will escape them. In The Visit there is almost obsessive attention so that shots in two-camera scenes shall fit seamlessly together, and in handheld scenes the camera movements from capturing one thing to another are very often shown. There is never unseen help from the crew, and all adjustments of cameras put in fixed positions are always seen. In fact, the handling of the cameras is almost as important than the story.

As the kids have stormed out from under the house after Nana has been chasing them, here is a typical manoeuvre: as Nana has appeared, coming at Tyler, the film carefully delineates how Tyler’s camera swings from looking at Becca to capturing Nana.
Here Tyler is holding one camera, while the other is stationary on a far-away table. (Note how the latter is prominently showing the oven, as if ominously foreshadowing Nana’s request that Becca shall climb inside to clean it.)
When that is over, it is carefully shown that Becca walks over to the stationary camera, picks it up so it in an intimate way can catch Nana passing by, producing the memorable, chilling and funny line that “Pop Pop is very competitive at board games”.
The children’s three Skype conversations with Mom become increasingly elaborate. Here she is still at home, the scene shot with only one of the children’s cameras. (The wide-angle lens on Mom’s own laptop helps produce an almost supernatural depth-of-field as it captures her boyfriend in another room.)
The second conversation is covered by an additional camera, with lots of intercutting, like a regular feature film. (Here the children’s laptop camera has been covered, undoubtedly on purpose, by Nana’s food so Mom can hardly see them.)
The third talk contains the twist, in a scene of some complexity. (Here there is an additional field of visual information, which shows Tyler’s face in the left top of the computer screen).
The now-cleaned laptop camera is now used as a portable unit for the benefit of Mom. One camera is left on the table, unmoved, while Becca picks up the other, and Tyler carries the laptop to the window. (This is one plot reason for the elders having gone out, because in this situation they must be someplace where Mom can observe them, from an unseen vantage point.)
Tyler is transmitting, holding up the laptop, while Becca films him with the other camera…
…and then the stationary camera picks up Tyler returning, Becca puts down her camera, and we return to the original set-up. With an excellent command of pauses, Shyamalan holds back the reveal for as long as possible, while Mom must carefully weigh her words to not panic the children. She finally says: “those aren’t your grandparents”.
One camera just happens to point towards the window where Nana appears, her beatific demeanour in unnerving contrast to the explosive revelation.
One wonders whether Nana has seen Mom, but still the sight of her would not necessarily mean that the secret is out. Unable to reach the local, one-officer police station, Mom is getting ready to drive to the farm.
Suddenly Pop Pop enters, in abnormal high spirits, and Tyler moves the camera to capture him.
Adding to the feeling of being surrounded – including the window, this is from three sides now – suddenly Nana breaks in from the other side, and now the other camera is moved to cover her. The scene ends with Pop Pop suggesting board games for their last evening.
After having broken the lock, Becca storms into the kitchen and heroically attacks Pop Pop, who fights her off. (“Have you been watching me”, he says to her, which calls back to his paranoid attack on the bystander in town.) As she was passing the kitchen island, we heard the sound of her camera being put down, and was shown to wobble slightly at the start of its footage from there.
The floor position turns out to be a perfect dramatic angle to observe Tyler first make Pop Pop’s head bang into a cupboard and when he has fallen, finish him off with the refrigerator door, while avoiding to be exploitative about the violence. The other camera records his raving and ranting after these deeds.

There are a few (possible) tiny inconsistencies which are detailed in this enclosure.

II: References

Here is a list of the film’s common themes and motifs with other Shymalalan works. The occurrences of mental illness in other Shyamalan films have already been discussed here, and its self-reflexive nature as related to his other films here.

The children bid their mother farewell at the 30th Street Station, a place that figures prominently in the “Eastrail 177 trilogy” of Unbreakable, Split and Glass (but when David is trying out his new power in the first film, it seems to be another station) as well as The Happening, as seen in this slide show:

The Sixth Sense: Nana throwing up during the first night is as shocking and disgusting as the vomiting ghost. Also like in the earlier film, the father who has left the family has adversely affected the well-being of those left behind.

Unbreakable: The children’s fear of mirrors and germs is somewhat reminiscent of David Dunn’s weakness of water (as well as the Signs aliens), and the boy hero’s pathological fear in After Earth. When Becca uses the camera as a club to break the lock, the attention to detail and realism beyond the call of duty in a shot that basically appears as a blur to the viewer recalls the somersault David undergoes when the Orange Man pushes him off the veranda into the swimming pool. The slow zoom in a single-take scene during Becca’s interview harks back to the elaborate use of quiet, sneaky camera movement in Shyamalan’s early films, most of all in Unbreakable, as described here.

Signs: The tension between the children behind the closed door of their bedroom and mysterious, ominous events on the other side is reminiscent of the scene with the alien locked in behind the pantry door. The scraping against the door when Nana is sundowning and even more the sharp noise of a powerful knock when she is outside with a knife recalls the aliens on the other side of the cellar door trying to get in. All the handheld camera has a precursor in the footage of birthday party (shot by the director himself) which gives the world the first glimpse of an alien. Like in the earlier film, except for the scenes at home bookending the film, the action is confined to a farm, only broken by one trip to a town. The climax sees the children defeat a physical threat that also makes them overcome their failings – Becca her fear of mirrors, Tyler breaks out of his paralysis – like Graham gets his faith back (and the After Earth boy overcomes his fear).

The Village: Like Nana and Pop tell the kids they are their grandparents, in the earlier film older people are lying to the young, about the time period and the monsters in the woods. Like Nana and Pop Pop’s private mythology which they tell themselves to cope, the elders of the village have built up a fictional mythology. The shots of naked trees have some kinship to the trees in the forest during Ivy’s journey. Tyler’s interview with an open door in the background is reminiscent of the countless shots of doors, very often from inside buildings with a prominent open door. Nana’s rocking chair points back to the many chairs, very often of the same type. Like “the old shed that is not to be used” in the village, Pop Pop is doing mysterious business in a shed – but what a hilarious difference between his used diapers and the villagers’ monster paraphernalia…!

And Tyler’s hand extended towards the pile of diapers is reminiscent of Ivy stretching her hand, grasping at what is inside the shed.
During the climax, every time Becca has looked away, Nana has come a bit closer, even though she is always seen to stand perfectly still. The same strategy is found, on a much more expansive canvas of course, in The Village: the film has lost sight of the monster three times, but it always appears in a new position, standing still.

Lady in the Water: Nana’s story in her interview is in its childlike simplicity as well as connection to water and fantastical creatures reminiscent of the bedtime story in the earlier film. (The foreign planet in her story is a slight link to the aliens in Signs.) The childish names of Nana and Pop Pop, as well as the connections to Hansel and Gretel, are other connections to the nature of a bedtime story. That film was inspired by a bedtime story Shyamalan told to his small children, and The Visit too might be a case of familial inspiration.

The Happening: The ominous exterior shot of a tree swing before the board game scene refers back to the barricaded house and a similar swing outside it. In both cases, the swing is creaking ominously. In the third act the refugees arrive at an isolated house much like the farm in The Visit, where awful things will happen. Nana in her more outrageous moments is reminscent of the Crazy Lady, whom we meet in this article. The latter is slapping the hand of the eight-year-old Jess, and old people’s cruelty against children is enormously expanded in The Visit.

Nana’s demonic face is a magnified version of the Crazy Lady’s rage after she has discovered the hero in her private room.

Split: Its abundance of point-of-view shots might be influenced by the ubiquity of subjective camera in its predecessor The Visit. Like Becca is struggling to overcome a locked door, Casey is hammering away at her cell door (and the whole plot revolves around the girls trying to escape their confinement in that room).

Glass: David Dunn too is hammering on his own cell door in this film. The children are using a camera as a surveillance instrument, and such cameras play a pivotal role at the psychiatric institution in the later film. And the way Nana is using the camera for her own purposes is an echo of how Elijah will turn them into his own advantage.

Like Becca takes a shard of glass and kills Nana, probably in the throat, Elijah uses the same type of weapon, and hits the guard in the same area. (The woman in the park in The Happening commits suicide with a hairpin in the same place.)

Old: the way Becca ends up highly decentred in her interview session points forward to the doctor in the later film sitting in shock after having killed another tourist:

Other films: Nana’s look and behaviour in some scenes bring our thoughts to the “hag horror” genre…

…prominently represented by two Robert Aldrich films: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), with Bette Davis (and Joan Crawford in the first one).
There is a strong correlation with a famous scene from Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), down to the touch on the shoulder – and both films feature pivotal secrets to do with dead people the basement.
Some scenes with a surveillance camera recall Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007) and its follow-ups, produced by the same company, Blumhouse, that became involved with The Visit.
On a bit of the humorous side: the central conflict of young versus old, as essensialised by the board game, reminds one of this scene in A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971).
To be totally frivolous: “Luca Guadagigno, you’re a simple thief!” What a contrast between the lighthearted mood of Tyler’s rap and the famous, bittersweet close-up of the hero of Call Me by Your Name (2017). Both are final shots, filmed in a long take, with the end titles rolling.


At the end of Tyler’s rap there is a break in the titles, so he can visually reign supreme with his punchline, which also seems a suitable place to end this meticulous investigation of The Visit.


Enclosure: Tiny inconsistencies

(These items come in addition to the minor problems described in the first article.) In two-camera scenes, normally the cameras are shown to already point in the right direction to be able to capture the next shot. This is about the only small inconsistency this author has been able to spot.

As the kids have stormed out from under the house after Nana has been chasing them, Rebecca’s camera is not in the right position (it is looking down into the snow) to film the next shot of Tyler, while his camera is at least pointing in the right direction. (So between the cuts she must have redirected the camera, but everything, including the sound, indicates that this is meant as one continuous flow.)
This is a definite continuity error, however: during the third Skype conversation, within the parts both before (left column) and after (right column) they have moved to the window to let Mom have a look at the grandparents, the camera looking past the laptop has changed positions, without Becca having touched it.
In one scene Tyler films the shed and then, without any cut, puts himself in front of the camera, but it stays way too stable for such a movement.
Some tiny untidiness: Pop Pop puts the camera down again after his insane credo, but when we pick up the action in the kitchen again, the position is different. It does not need to mean more than he has simply changed it off-screen, but the film is so painstakingly meticulous in these matters that it feels worth mentioning it.
Some more untidiness, perhaps: there is a jump cut to a closer position during Nana’s aborted interview session…
…and a similar one, in the opposite direction, during Mom’s second interview. (There is also an odd jump cut in the middle of the embrace with Becca at the end.)

In both cases it feels odd that Becca would have changed the framing in the middle of the interview, especially in Nana’s case since there did not seem a natural break in the dialogue. In the last case, however, she might have got the idea of the slow zoom-in on Mom after the start and moved back to get room for it. There is a similar change of framing while Tyler is unpacking but he is such rebellious subject that it is only natural that the scene would consist of several takes.

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