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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

Why The Visit (2015) Really Scares Me

Ever since the trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit dropped in 2015, I wanted nothing to do with it. Something about the type of horror really creeped me out. The premise of the movie, which is clear from the trailer, is that two kids (one a teenager, one middle-school age) go to visit their grandparents for the first time. The kids are the ones documenting this meeting, since it’s a loaded moment for the family. Their single mother (Kathryn Hahn) has been estranged from her parents for many years. But soon after the grandchildren arrive, the grandparents start acting bizarre. Disturbingly bizarre.

Something about this movie was like a mountain I needed to climb. As a horror enthusiast I still have clear boundaries around what type of horror films I want to watch. For example, I am not interested in torture porn or films with excessive gore. It’s just not for me! I don’t like when real horrific events are turned into entertainment…The Strangers for example. Just not for me! But with The Visit, there was no obvious reason for me to be so turned off by the trailer. Not to mention how much I love and respect (most films) made by M. Night Shyamalan.

I was talking about this conundrum with my therapist a few weeks ago, and she shrugged it off. Also a huge horror fan, she reassured me that this film isn’t anything to be worried about. It's creepy, she said, but not upsetting.

So, being October, I decided to watch it. Enough was enough.

The Visit was great. I love found footage films, I loved the twist and how the story unfolded, I enjoyed how intentionally silly some parts of it were. But, I did not handle the horror of it well. I disagree with my therapist, I do think this film is disturbing. But I also still couldn’t quite place my finger on why. After the screening I was so jumpy that my boyfriend started to announce himself before he entered the room I was in.

The horror elements consisted of a few jump scares and very brief gore, but the heart of it was the unknown. Strange and confusing behavior from the grandparents that got under my skin. The fear of not knowing what was causing that noise outside the door at night. That sort of thing…

I am trying to parse out what about The Visit freaks me out to my core. The first thing that came to mind was uncanny valley. This term typically refers to a humanoid thing that is scary because it’s so close to being human but isn’t. Clowns are a great example of uncanny valley horror, or puppets. But the grandparents in The Visit are human!

Spoilers below.

My other theory is (after we learn the ending twist) that my fear is rooted in the fear of aging, or mental health conditions, the deterioration of the mind. But that wasn’t clear from the trailer, and I was certainly scared watching the film before the big reveal.

My best guess at this point is that it’s some combination of the two. Something about grandparents, the people you should trust, acting totally out of character is unsettling in some core human way. It triggers my instincts on some level, telling me to be afraid because something here isn’t as it should be. It feels similar to Hereditary (2018) in that way. Familiar horror. Feeling unsafe with your loved ones.

Reading reviews for this film, it seems to really divide people. A ton of people loved it and a ton of people thought it was stupid.

I’m glad I watched it, but it will sit with me for a while. Again similar to my reaction to Hereditary. Have you seen The Visit? How did you feel about it?

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