Bridging the Gap between Horror and Comedy: “The Visit”

By: Nadia Azad

After watching this trailer, I, along with many others, thought that M. Night Shyamalan’s newest horror comedy movie, The Visit, would fall flat. The preview seems to make the movie out to be a clichéd modern-day Hansel and Gretel, where the children’s idyllic visit to grandparents’ house turns to nightmare. The grandmother’s line at the end of the trailer, “Would you mind getting in the oven…?” is especially what led me to believe that this movie would be a laughable re-make of an old horror tale.

However, what most people do not realize until they watch the actual movie, is that it parodies scary movie tropes and uses them to add to the funniness and, in fact, freshness, of this movie. It is successful because of its ability to bring together raw humor and raw terror in such a way that the result is pure entertainment, and a thrill throughout the whole ride.

The Visit centers around two children, Becca and Tyler, whose mom had fallen out with her parents long ago, but will not tell them why. Therefore, when their mom allows them to go and see their grandparents, whom they have never been able to meet, they are thrilled. Becca is an aspiring cinematographer, and therefore, most of the film is shown documentary-style, through her camera. This first person viewpoint is what allows for some of the most horrifying shots and sequences in the movie. For example, when the kids decide to play hide and seek under the porch, we notice that the grandmother has decided to pursue the kids as well, hair pulled in front of her face and all. While these and other occurrences at the house seem a little odd, the kids simply write this off as a symptom of their old age, at first. Soon, however, after 9:30, the kids start noticing extremely strange behavior from the couple, which progresses in bizarreness as the week of their visit, and movie, goes on. In an allude to Paranormal Activity, the camera is placed one night on a shelf in the living room to see what the old woman is up to. While we see her pace back and forth with a sense of security knowing that the camera is hidden, viewers suddenly see the background without her in it, and her face pop up, staring directly into the lens. Again, while the movie uses certain tropes that set us up to have a certain expectation, the originality with which they are employed, such as having the grandmother find the hidden camera, lead to fresh, unexpected terror.

Not only does the movie do horror well, but its use of the movie-within-a-movie style and tropes leads to comedy as it seems the movie is parodying some of these overused elements. For instance, Becca’s mom’s favorite soundtrack is an opera song, which is played in Becca’s movie near the end when the kids are running away, leading to an over-the-top ending that is still heartfelt. In other instances of pure comedy, Trevor, the younger brother starts using the names of female pop singers in lieu of curse words. This leads to, in the middle of very tense scenes, the murmur of “Katy Perry” or “Sarah McLachlan,” allowing for brief reprieve in the midst of fear.

The Visit does what we have seen other movies, such as the Scream series, do before, which is seamlessly combine horror and comedy. The mixing of these two genres seems to be fairly popular in T.V. as well, with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the X-Files. Why is it such a popular choice to combine genres that seem so separate from one another? It could be that the sensations of terror and humor are enhanced due to juxtaposing one with the other. It could also be that comedy is able to provide a slight respite from the exhausting apprehension of feeling scared, leading to a more enjoyable experience. Whatever the reason, I am grateful that this genre exists, and feel that The Visit and movies like it appeal to anyone who likes odd-ball humor or intense terror.

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One thought on “Bridging the Gap between Horror and Comedy: “The Visit”

  1. I also felt the same way about “The Visit” as you did from the preview. I did not expect it to be a great movie, probably because I did not understand that the movie is sometimes sarcastic as it parodies other similar films. I also agree with your positive comments about the humor/horror genre, but at the same time believe that there are also negative aspects as well, depending on what you want out of a movie. For example, I recently watched Donnie Darko, a very dark movie that adds humor intermediately and arguably parodies scif-fi films. For me, the humor almost took away from the film. If the humor were toned down, even just a little, I feel as though the movie would have been much scarier. But like I said, it depends on what you want from the movie; is the humor worth the diminished effect of horror? Or would the movie not have been as entertaining without the humor? How do you think these questions apply to “The Visit”?

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