September 14, 2015 The Visit (Movie Review)
Many fans would agree they enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier films more than his latest attempts at getting them to part with their theater-movie budgets. Based solely on the strength of his name alone, those first films continue to be enough for one to give his writing and directing a shot. Set in present day rural Pennsylvania, the writer/director’s latest film, entitled The Visit, released on September 11th, may change some people’s opinion.
Released via Universal Pictures, The Visit is about a pair of teenagers spending a week with their single-mother’s estranged parents. As time passes, the grandparent’s behavior becomes more erratic, and in the usual Shyamalan fashion, there are clues to the inevitable twist, which keep us guessing until the final reveal. Shot in documentary style, the film opens with an interview between the mother (Kathryn Hahn: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days 2003, We’re The Millers 2013) and her daughter Becca (Olivia DeJonge: Polarised 2012, The Sisterhood of Night 2014). The opening scene is a bit of an info dump, telling the audience everything they will need to know in order to accept that mom will send her children off on their own to visit their grandparents; people who she has not seen herself in fifteen years. Becca and her younger brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day 2014, Paper Planes 2014), convince their mother to let them go in order for her and her boyfriend to go on a cruise, in the hope it brings them closer together.
Throughout the early part of the film, Becca explains details of why she needs this shot or that camera angle as she makes up the documentary meant to repair their mother’s relationship with her parents. Becca and Tyler both have cameras and take turns showing us their view, or sharing camera duty, in order to cover all the scenes that make up the film. When done well, this method can be quite effective, if not a bit played out. For the most part it works, although there is a scene of a game of hide-and-seek that this technique hurts more than it helps.
From the moment they meet Nana (Deanna Dunagan: Running Scared 1986, Dimension 2007) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie: Spider-Man 2 2004, Lincoln 2012) at the train station, the children immediately bond with them. It struck me as odd that teenagers who have never met their grandparents would be this at ease with, basically, strangers. Even when they get back to the secluded farm house—with no cell service but hard-wired internet?—their banter is easy with no awkwardness. It seems that there would have been at least a bit of a “getting to know you” period.
As each day passes, their grandparent’s escalating lunacy is attributed to their advanced age. This point is made by each grandparent separately, and once by the clearest Skype conversation many viewers may ever see which takes place between the children and their mother who is on the cruise ship. This flawless connection does play a large part further along in the film.
There is a fair share of humor to go along with scares that—for the most part—are of the suddenly in your face variety. Tyler is a wannabe rapper, whose raps are humorous in both delivery and rhyme. (Stick around for the end-credits for the best one of the three he does in the film.) Nana provides the most comic relief along with the bulk of the scares. Although Pop-Pop delivers subtle hints at the promise of violence, it is Nana who is to be most feared as time moves closer to the end of the visit.
The hints are there, along with a smattering of red herrings: the grandparent’s strange behavior—which is extreme despite the old-age attribution, visitors wondering why they have not shown up to provide counseling at a local “hospital,” a mysterious shed, long unexplained walks in the nearby woods, Nana’s story about aliens in the water, and Pop-Pop’s about a shadowy white figure with yellow eyes, the kids are told to stay out of the basement because of mold. Shyamalan is good at dropping them and making you think back and say, “Oh yeah, that’s why that happened,” and he is on his game here.
Depending on one’s personal tolerance for Horror, this is either an entertaining movie with a good mixture of humor and terror, or a predictable film with cheap pop-up surprises, and an ending along the lines of, “the call is coming from inside the house.” Young viewers will laugh and scream at all the right places, so for at least for that demographic, the film works. For those Horror lovers who have seen everything both foreign and domestic, The Visit is entertaining, but not blood-curdling. As far as Shyamalan films go, it is worth seeing. CrypticRock gives The Visit 3.5 out of 5 stars.