The Visit is a fun and kitschy horror parable - though the trademark Shyamalan twist will be a big disappoint for many viewers.
The Visit follows Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), two siblings who head out to rural Pennsylvania to document the meeting of their estranged grandparents, last seen when their mother (Kathryn Hahn) left home fifteen years ago. When Becca and Tyler arrive at Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop's (Peter McRobbie) farm, they immediately set about crafting the documentary with the intent of showing how their mother leaving home at a young age echoes the pattern of their own father abandoning them when they needed him the most.
However, as Becca and Tyler focus the lens closer on Nana and Pop Pop the more abnormal their subjects reveal themselves to be. As the week-long visit crawls along, the cracks in the grandparents' good-natured facade widen and widen, finally exploding in a fit of horror that Becca and Tyler must fight to survive.
The latest film from beleaguered filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, The Visit is a fun and kitschy horror parable - though the trademark Shyamalan twist will be a big disappoint for many viewers.
Shyamalan both wrote and directed The Visit, and as his critics might expect, it's a "blessing and a curse" package. On the directorial front, there isn't much crafting or technique to speak of, due to the found-footage format of the film. Like every movie in the (tired) sub-genre, the found-footage "technique" involves coming up with reasonable scenarios and context for people to be filming themselves - and to continue doing so, even when in peril. While the The Visit does manage to root its voyeuristic perspective in both the narrative themes and the personality matrixes of the two main characters, the format nonetheless feels binding, and in moments of real fright or action the usual shaky cam antics disrupt the viewing experience. In short: if you don't like found-footage, you won't like this found-footage movie.
On paper, however, The Visit does manage to capture a lot of the richness of classic '70s or early '80s horror, unfortunately wrapping it around a flimsy twist - one that will likely elicit more bad stigma for Shyamalan, the crowned king of flimsy twists. To the movie's credit, Shyamalan does what good horror storytellers are supposed to: he takes a familiar and relatable concept (going to visit your grandparents) and twists it into something unfamiliar and menacing. The Visit indeed has that "campfire ghost story" quality that could've made it an enduring horror parable - so for anyone who likes their fright flicks on that level (read: creepy more than scary or gruesome) this will be a nice fit. The tone of the story is also blessedly kitschy and always self-aware enough to not take itself too seriously, which creates a level of horror/comedy that fans can at least laugh along with (as opposed to at).
The cast of characters are drawn well enough, though the two main characters may put-off viewers who can't appreciate the level of meta humor in the would-be media stars. Both Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould thankfully polish their characters into genuine modern (pre-)teens, fleshing out the otherwise flat caricatures of pretentious film snob and "ethnically confused" suburban rapper - personas the movie pokes fun at. In certain scenes where more drama and depth are required, both young leads actually deliver quite well, and Shyamalan interjects some genuine heart and drama into the film (though those same dramatic moments, while quality on their own, feel a bit at odds with the otherwise horror kitsch tone of the film).
Deanna Dunagan (Unforgettable) and Peter McRobbie (Daredevil) jump in with both feet to the roles of Nana and Pop Pop, respectively. Though the movie keeps the oddball old couple at arm's length, the two veteran character actors own every scene they're in, sometimes with just body movements and glances. The Visit only keeps traction because of what Dunagan and McRobbie can deliver; if nothing else, the electricity of what they might do keeps every scene they're in lively and riveting. On the peripheral, Kathryn Hahn pops in for a funny light portrayal as "The Mom," only to have to swing all that funny charm over into some key (overly heavy?) dramatic moments.
In the end, The Visit is fine horror matinée (or future rental) material for fans who don't mind the kitchsy campfire story style of the film. Those hoping for Shyamalan to continue his 'comeback' after the success of Wayward Pines, or for the filmmaker to deliver another twist on par with The Sixth Sense, will end up walking away disappointed.
The Visit is now playing in theaters. It is 94 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language.
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