One Of The Scariest Scenes In The Visit Goes Bump In The Night

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Matt Donato and Ariel Fisher. In this edition, Matt turns a camera on some innocent-looking grandparents in "The Visit" and Ariel can't stand the silence.)

The found-footage movement was birthed by filmmakers with tight budgets and minimal resources who defied the odds to popularize home video horrors. Movies like "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal Activity" showed that $15,000 and a handheld camera could gross $190 million. Everyone wanted their cut of the insanely profitable subgenre (when done right). Little by little, found footage was everywhere, eventually being adopted by mainstream filmmakers and studios who wanted to profit off of the trend. Kaijus, exorcisms, and zombies got in on the action, and then it was M. Night Shyamalan's turn. 

"The Visit" proves that found footage efficiency boils down to ideas, execution, and storytelling. Shyamalan's pedigree as a blockbuster filmmaker does nothing to rob the first-person horror show that is grandchildren fighting off their septuagenarian babysitters. 

Some complain that big-budget found footage films are too cleanly produced and lack that guerilla filmmaking grime, but that's not necessarily a damning factor. "The Visit" shouldn't be docked just because it's cleanly shot. As long as the scares are well-produced, it's still successful found footage. 

Shyamalan finds a way to make senior citizens terrifying while creating a found-footage gem that smells like a scented candle named "Home Sweet Hell."

The setup

Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house 15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and 13-year-old Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) go. Oddly enough, they've never met their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) or Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). Their mother, Loretta (Kathryn Hahn), severed ties with her parents 15 years prior because they disapproved of her marrying her high school teacher. Loretta's headed on a cruise with her new boyfriend, so it's a perfect excuse for the children to stay with family and spend some quality catch-up time.

Becca and Tyler have to endure five days with Nana and Pop Pop. For the duration, they plan to videotape what will become a documentary about finally meeting their relatives. Something this momentous should be recorded for prosperity, which becomes Shyamalan's explanation for why his adolescent main characters keep their camera rolling on Nana and Pop Pop.

As far as these types of justifications go, "The Visit" soundly reasons its adoption of the found footage format.

The story so far

Nana and Pop Pop are a bit off-center from the start, laying out rules the children must obey. Becca and Tyler must never venture into the basement due to hazardous mold, and they must be in bed by 9:30 p.m. every night. There's little resistance, although children will always be disobedient runts. Becca wanders downstairs after curfew on the first night and catches Nana projectile vomiting. It's enough to give minor pause or a kernel of suspicion, but that's not where Nana and Pop Pop's behavior ceases to trouble.

An unsettling game of hide-and-seek with Nana becomes increasingly creepy, as Nana reacts irrationally to the mention of Loretta's name, and Tyler later discovers a mountain of dirty diapers in Pop Pop's shed. Then Pop Pop attacks someone in public and the youngsters' worry increases.

Nana and Pop Pop are confronted about their actions but dismiss one another's peculiar activity. Becca and Tyler are becoming more concerned by the minute and even see one of their grandparents' previous counseling patients arrive with a baked treat but never exit. Becca scours the internet for explanations and confides her concern in Loretta via video call, who downplays the habits of the elderly. Tyler decides to do some detective work of his own and rigs the camera as a secret surveillance device in the living room, hoping to catch Nana or Pop Pop doing whatever the kids aren't allowed to witness past bedtime.

Around 10:40 p.m. that night, Nana gives the documentarians something to fear.

The scene

Becca and Tyler lay asleep under dark shadows behind a locked bedroom door. The camera perspective flips to the living room in more shadowy darkness to suggest no one is awake and stirring — until Nana appears in the kitchen in her flowing nightgown. She seems to have a snack, which she places on the table. Then she walks to the closet and starts opening, then closing the door, slamming it repeatedly, fixated by each hard thrust.

The camera cuts back to Becca and Tyler's room, where neither is woken up by the banging downstairs.

Cut back to Nana's ruckus, and she abruptly stops. She walks trance-like across the camera's lens without paying it any attention, from far left to just out of frame, far right. Her shadow vanishes, and there's a moment of silence. Nana has disappeared, leaving an empty living room. Then a scamper starts off-camera, like something on all fours hurriedly crawling across the hardwood floor. We witness nothing, just the sound growing closer and louder.

The noise stops, and that's when Nana leaps from beneath the frame and makes an infernal growl. Something demonic. She purposely executes a quintessential found footage jump scare. It's brash, in our face, and supremely frightful as Nana glares into the lens with a noticeable scowl — she's being watched and doesn't appreciate the tactic. It's a dagger-filled look that means consequences.

She grabs the camera and walks into the kitchen once again, where she also grabs a knife. The camera, pointed towards the ground, keeps recording Nana as she ascends the stairs that lead back to the second floor. She puts the camera down, angled towards Becca and Tyler's door, where Nana briskly walks, brandishing the cutlery.

The camera swings back on Becca and Tyler, still snoozing, and we hear someone trying to jimmy their door open.

Tyler wakes up — there's a loud bang.

Nana attempts to bash down their door in frustration but goes back to the lock. Then another bang. Becca and Tyler are now sitting upright in their beds, staring at the door, praying whatever's on the other side can't enter.

The impact (Ariel's take)

Cringe-worthy rapping and gross-out tactics aside, "The Visit" definitely surprised me. It didn't linger quite the same way "Paranormal Activity" did, as far as found footage movies go, but I liked it well enough. The way Shyamalan weaponizes both the fear of the elderly and the fear of being accused of ageism is impressive, not to mention effective. And this is one of the best scares in the movie, without question.

I've said this before, and it'll likely come up many times in the future, but there are a few things that truly scare the s*** out of me, and one of them is being charged. Even the sound of feet running towards me is enough, whether it's coming from a movie or out in the real world. With all that said, Nana's footsteps probably scare me more than her jumping up in front of the camera with a snarl. Follow that with the absolute dead silence of the house and Nana's banging on the door ... no thanks. Hard pass. I'll stay at an Airbnb.