Friday, September 11, 2015

The Visit

This review originally appeared on

The good news is, M. Night Shyamalan has made his best movie in years. The bad news is, it's another damned found footage horror movie.

The divorced mother (Kathryn Hahn) of Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) had a falling out with her parents when she left home at 19, and hasn't seen them since. But after receiving a phone call from them wishing to meet their grandchildren, mom has a change of heart and allows a week-long visit. (This time apart also allows her to take an extended cruise with her boyfriend.)

Rebecca is an aspiring filmmaker, and decides to film the entire event and turn it into a documentary — hence the found footage conceit. I will grant Rebecca this: She has the presence of mind to set her cameras up on tripods and other solid surfaces much of the time, so the movie has a little less of the shaky, vomit-inducing camera work of the majority of the genre. As a teenage filmmaker, Rebecca is also pleasantly pretentious as she narrates her footage, (but the less said of brother Tyler's rapping, the better).

At first, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) seem nice, if a little distracted. Nana loves to cook, and Pop Pop putters around their farm, chopping wood and trekking out to the shed. A lot. But then, bed time arrives, (at 9:30 p.m. which is simply appalling to the wifi-less kids), and things start to get weird.

The first real scare of the movie is genuinely startling, because it's so weird. But as the movie progresses, Shyamalan tends to rely too much on conventional frights: faces suddenly appearing on screen and images of a long-haired woman crawling across the floor straight out of numerous Japanese and now, too many American, horror movies.

As the visit, and The Visit progresses, it's clear there's something seriously wrong with the grandparents. The film plays up on fears many people have of the elderly, from dementia to incontinence (and hoo boy, does that bit have a disgusting payoff) that, unfortunately, at times borders on a distasteful prejudice. That the kids have some genuine mental issues of their own to deal with adds to the feeling that this is one fucked up family line, and anything could happen.

The twist — this is M. Night Shyamalan, of course there's a twist — isn't as ridiculous as Shyamalan at his worst, and works perfectly well for the story, even if it's hammered home more than it needs to be. While both actors playing the grandparents are great, I have to single out Deanna Dugan's portrayal of the grandmother. She does some really spooky and...revealing stuff in the movie, and doesn't hold back.

This Sunday is, probably no coincidence, Grandparents Day. If you plan on seeing yours to celebrate it, maybe do yourself a favor, and save a viewing of The Visit for some time afterwards. That way you won't get freaked out if grandma asks you to help clean the oven after dinner.

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