Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Visit (2015)
Directed and Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Review by Anthony Servante


Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) say goodbye to their mother as they board a train and head deep into Pennsylvania farm country to meet their maternal grandparents for the first time. Welcomed by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), all seems well until the siblings start to notice increasingly strange behavior from the seemingly charming couple. Once the children discover a shocking secret, they begin to wonder if they'll ever make it home.


I remember when the name M. Night Shyamalan drew hoots and hollars from movie critics and horror fanatics all over the movie-loving world. That's because his first film 'The Sixth Sense' (1999) merited such attention. But with each new movie, the oohs and aahs calmed to a quiet meh. I enjoyed 'Unbreakable' (2000), a superhero film set in the real world, just as 'ghosts' inhabited his first film with shocking realism. The declaration "I see dead people" became an iconic line on par with "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse". The promise of Shyamalan never materialized, although we still see flashes of his genius in each of his movies, and even as his audience has shrunk, we few die-hards keep watching his movies, hoping that the next flash in the pan is real gold. 

What's gramma and grampa up to?

Sadly, 'The Visit' is close, but no gold ring. However, we do get a gold-plated piece of jewelry that is pretty as the real thing.

The main problem with the film is that Shyamalan still hopes to trick us again, as he did so brilliantly in The Sixth Sense. Consider the premise of the film. Preteen Tyler (the annoying one) and 14 year old Becca (the cloying one) will be spending one week with their grandparents, the estranged parents of their mother (Kathryn Hahn). The kids decide to film the visit in reality TV fashion in an effort to reconcile their mom with her folks. Thus we have another found footage film that is curiously as well-edited as a regular high-budget film. Shyamalan wants to have his cake and eat it too. Whether or not we the audience will go along with his attempt to mix genres relies heavily on that 'twist' we know is coming. Hell, we know Penn and Teller are pulling the wool over our eyes right before our eyes; that's the fun, that we don't see it coming. 

What's gramma watching?

The first act of the movie introduces us to the kids. Becca likes to make movies. She uses all the right vocabulary that big-time film-makers use, which doesn't click as true coming from a 14 year old's lips. We are reminded again and again that these kids are Smart with a capital S, so I suppose smart 14 year old film-makers do talk like that. Tyler, on the other hand, is "ethnically challenged", as his sister points out, because he likes to rhyme, as in Straight Outta Compton rhyme. That's where the annoying part comes in. (Possible Spoiler) Even Pop Pop tells the boy later "I don't like you." And that speaks volumes about these kids: we don't like them. They're Brady Bunch by way of the Garbage Pail Kids. 

Which brings us to the second act. We get to know the grandparents. Hey, these were real well-drawn old people. Adult diapers. Dementia. Depression. MS. Schizophrenia. Uncontrolled laughter. Oh, and chronic cooking and eating. And loads of neurotic tics. You may as well have made a horror movie about young kids having to spend a week with sick old people. Who needs a trick ending?! Seen through the eyes of children, the symptoms of old age might indeed seem like a horror movie. The seniors in the audience I saw the film with thought the movie was a comedy, 'cuz damn, it was funny. And if those annoying kids get their comeuppance for bothering those old folks, well, they had it coming. 

Aside: Where is the mom all this time? Oh, that's right. She has to be clueless for the twist to work. Oops. Almost gave it away. 

The brats come for a visit. 

In the third act, the battle of ages begins. Yep, it's about here that the trick denouement triggers the horrors to come. But wait. What exactly are these horrors? No spoilers here. It's great editing, senior moments, and scared kids colliding. It's like M. Night Shyamalan came across this found footage of some kids visiting their grandparents and edited it into a horror film, transposing the twist into the weave to give it his personal tag. Sure, it's not a great twist, but the last two acts are worth your time--if you have a lot of time on your hands.

If you are a Shyamalan fan, then this is a must-see. It's not primo horror, but it's on the right track to getting there if you've been patient this far into the director's oeuvre. In a penny, in for a pounding, as they say. 

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