The plot? Simple as can be. Siblings Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) spend a week with the grandparents they've never met. Teen Rebecca is an aspiring documentarian—lucky for us, as it's her camera that documents the increasingly strange behavior of Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). Tween Tyler happens to be an aspiring rapper—his occasional rhymes provide some of the film's quirky sense of humor. One might expect Kathryn Hahn, as the kids' flighty mom Loretta, to contribute to the funny business but she plays it straight. Bad blood between Loretta and her folks, including some incidents so bad that neither party dares speak of them, provides the crux of the mystery surrounding the family.
It was a canny move to make Rebecca not only an aspiring filmmaker, but also a very serious student of film. This allows for videography that is believably sturdier than the faux-amateur camera work that dominates "found footage" films. And Shyamalan (who wrote as well as directed, as he usually does) also invests a surprising amount of depth in Rebecca. She obviously cares about getting to the bottom of her family's troubled past and makes it the focus of her film. Scares mix with laughs and it all works. A huge amount of credit goes to the cast, which is uniformly excellent.
And that brings me to what I mentioned earlier about The Visit being deserving of award consideration. Often we see actors get nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes solely because they mastered the ticks and speech patterns of individuals afflicted with various physical and/or mental conditions. They're mechanical performances, however visually impressive they may be. What Deanna Dunagan does here (as the grandmother) is precisely one of those types of performances—her characterization of unhinged psychosis is mesmerizing and disturbing. This is surely one of the great supporting performances of the year, though it's featured in a decidedly B-level horror flick. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's necessarily Oscar-worthy. But it's kind of a shame there isn't more high profile recognition for this particular kind of pulp tour de force.
Universal brings The Visit to Blu-ray with a solid 1080p transfer and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. With a lot of "found footage" films, the emphasis is on scuzzy, cheapo videography shot on consumer-grade cameras. Making the protagonist a budding filmmaker allows Shyamalan to justify a more professional look. The sound design, in keeping with the documentary-style, is pretty naturalistic. As such, dialogue and atmospheric effects all sound fine without needing to create an especially memorable surround-sound experience.
Light special features are included and none of them amounts to much. There's an alternate ending, a selection of very brief deleted scenes, a ten-minute 'making of,' and a short photo gallery. The movie is the main attraction here and Universal's disc basically lets it stand more or less on its own. Which it does.