Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.
One interesting thing about The Visit—the first M. Night Shyamalan movie since The Village to turn on a third-act plot twist—is the lengths to which the movie goes to keep the audience from reaching what should be the most logical conclusion. Hints about a family secret and unexplained events that suggest everything from supernatural ritual to extraterrestrial control work the kids’ (and, by extension, the audience’s) imaginations, but when they tell Mom about it over Skype—briefly swinging the laptop over to the window to show her that Pop Pop and Nana are outside—she responds with the obvious answer that the viewer probably hasn’t had time to think of: “Those aren’t your grandparents.”
No, of course they’re not. They’re just two elderly people who happened to be standing at the train station awkwardly holding a sign with Becca and Tyler’s names on it, whom the kids have accepted as their grandparents because they wanted to. Found-footage movies generally operate under the logic that people behave more or less normally when there’s a camera around all the time. The Visit’s neatest tweak on the genre is that everyone is consciously playing for the camera—even Becca, who reframes into a tight close-up as she puts her hand over Nana’s early on.
Nana and Pop Pop—violent escapees from a nearby mental hospital who forced their way into the home of two volunteers, the real grandparents—are both trying to keep up the appearance of sanity and normalcy, but are doing a terrible job. “You know, I used to be an actor” becomes a running gag, uttered by random strangers—an Amtrak conductor, a neighbor who comes by while Nana and Pop are out—who then proceed to ham it up for Becca and Tyler. Shyamalan is a notoriously economical writer, with little in the way of the extraneous. (See: Signs.) Here, all the references to performance—whether it’s Tyler’s “ethnically confused” rapping or Becca directing her brother to unpack his suitcase without looking at the camera—converge in a climax where the kids are forced to act out Nana and Pop Pop’s deranged idea of “normal” family night while they wait for the local cops to arrive.
There’s plenty of other stuff, too; whether it’s Becca’s low self-esteem, Tyler’s offhand recollections of disappointing their dad at a pee wee football game, or the neighbors who drop off food while the imposter grandparents aren’t home, everything happens for a narrative reason. And then there’s the treasure trove of other Shyamalanisms: the focus on divorce and marital turmoil; the references to hippies-turned-authoritarians, alien invasion stories, and ’70s pop culture; the obsession with water (see: Unbreakable, Signs, Lady In The Water), which manifests itself in the imposter grandma’s belief in an alien species that can only be contacted by being drowned in a well; and the home invasion premise (see: Signs, the “Orange Man” sequence in Unbreakable, the flashback in After Earth), which the movie hides until the third act.