The 2015 found footage horror film ‘The Visit’ charts the tale of a pair of siblings’ mysterious week-long visit to their grandparents’ house that takes an unforeseen turn for the worse. Due to Loretta Jamison’s tense departure from her childhood home in her late teenage years, the woman’s kids, Becca and Tyler, grow up without any contact with their grandparents. For the same reason, once the latter party extends an invitation to the kids, they readily agree and set out on a vacation. However, on the first night of their arrival, past the 9:30 bedtime, the kids begin to spot eerie occurrences around the house.
In the following days, Becca and Tyler witness Nana and Pop Pop’s increasingly dangerous behavior, shifting their visit from a fun stay at their grandparents’ to a living nightmare. Due to the plausible nature of the young Jamisons’ misadventures, their story remains relatively grounded in reality despite its unnerving horror. However, exactly how much reality is behind the tale?
The Visit Harvests Horror From Realistic Sources
No, ‘The Visit’ is not based on a true story. The film is an original idea created by M. Night Shyamalan, who helmed the project’s development as the Director and Screenwriter. Therefore, all the elements explored within the narrative, including the premise, plotlines, and characters, are works of fiction credited to the filmmaker’s imagination.
Still, like any worthwhile horror, the source of the character’s fears and settings within the film had to have tangible connections to reality to ensure the narrative held the audience’s attention without fail. For the same reason, ‘The Visit’ mines its frightening elements from unusual but realistic fears, the most obvious of which remains Nana and Pop Pop’s characters. Through their centrally antagonistic characters, the film highlights the thematic fear of aging, paired with actual physical and medical manifestations of the same.
Shyamalan discussed this facet of the film in a conversation with Bloody Disgusting, where he said, “No matter how you slice it— when people begin acting odd, things can get frightening in a hurry. Something that’s frightening to a viewer triggers their sense of the unknown.” Relating the same idea to the inconveniences of growing old— a phenomenon undiscovered until personal experience— the filmmaker crafted the central storyline that the film’s story revolves around.
“It’s interesting that fear can be triggered by having an elderly person do something that is just crazy weird,” Shyamalan expanded. “The situation can be both hilarious and scary. You’re having two emotions boiling over at the same time. That’s what I wanted ‘The Visit’ to do to the audience.”
Furthermore, by focusing on elderly characters as a source of horror within his story, Shyamalan tapped into an innate fear of death that many harbor. The filmmaker discussed the same in an interview with Geeks of Doom and said, “I have to believe there is a primal thing that we are talking about even though we are doing it in a tongue-in-cheek manner. What is it that makes it scary? What is the psychology behind it? I just love psychology. Why we do things? What does the color red do? What is this? All of that stuff. That is the primal thing of it— that we are scared of getting old. Playing on that is a powerful conceit.”
Within the same interview, Shyamalan also spoke about his own relationship with the fear of old people, sharing compelling anecdotes about his life, “My late grandparents were classic Indian parents. My grandmother would put so much powder on her face— it would be like a Kabuki mask. My grandfather would have no teeth because he would take out his teeth, and put them in the glass, and try to scare me with it. He was very mischievous, too. So then I tried to scare them when I was a little older.”
It remains evident that the filmmaker didn’t base any characters on people from his life. Still, it’s possible he used his past experiences to better frame the dynamic of teenage kids and their fearful relationship with an aged person’s odd behavior. As such, the film is able to hold onto a sense of humor while still delivering on the horror beats.
However, even though these fears have a basis in real life, the film’s storylines itself do not. Therefore, ‘The Visit’ remains a fictional work with its characters and their circumstances confined to fictionality.
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