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The Visit (PG-13)
Film reviews by Amy Diaz

09/17/15
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



The Visit (PG-13)

Two teens spend a week with their increasingly strange grandparents in The Visit, an M. Night Shyamalan, er, thing.
Horror movie? Comedy? Self-parody? I have no idea. The trailers I saw prior to seeing the movie seemed to stress the horror, or at least thriller, aspect but both IMDB and Wikipedia include “comedy” in their genre labeling of this movie. But it’s not, to my mind, a comedy-horror in the way that, say, the jokey Scream movies would fit that description and, while The Visit feels quite meta, it isn’t the broadly winking The Cabin in the Woods either. It’s this whole other ... weird ... I don’t know, thing that feels like both the most Shyamalany thing Shyamalan could make and an answer to the critics of his Shyamalan tendencies. And it’s often annoying in the way it showily points out what it’s doing. And/but I also laughed out loud several times, including during a truly hilarious scene in the movie’s final act. 
My first thought while watching this movie was “gaaaah, Shyamalan discovered ‘found footage.’” A variation on this increasingly tired horror movie structure — thanks, Paranormal Activity, or really, I guess, thanks, Blair Witch Project — is employed by the 15-ish Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her 13-year-old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who are going to meet their grandparents for the first time. Their mom (Kathryn Hahn) left home while still a teenager after a fight with her parents about the man who would become her husband (and then the father of her children and then her ex-husband and the distant father of her children), an older man whom she met when he substitute taught at her high school. She hasn’t seen her parents in more than a decade and Becca and Tyler have never met them. But they contacted their daughter and asked to meet the kids. Becca and Tyler urged their mom to let them go in hopes that she (their mom) could have a relaxing vacation with her new boyfriend. Becca, a budding documentarian, decides to film the whole trip and make a movie about her grandparents and her mother. Tyler doesn’t care about documentaries but he does enjoy making up and recording his hilariously middle school-ish freestyle raps, which Becca begrudgingly lets him do in exchange for being in and helping with her film.
These city kids take the train to the small town where their grandparents live and meet Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie). At first, grandparents and grandchildren are fairly overjoyed to be in each other’s company. But, during the first night, the kids start to notice oddness coming from Nana. Something about evening brings on increasingly bizarre behavior — scampering around like a creepy The Ring ghost, for example. Meanwhile, the longer they visit, the more something seems odd about Pop Pop as well. 
So, yes, there’s a twist, but it’s one you see coming from a long way off and one that almost seems like the movie’s way of saying “here’s that Shyamalan twist you’re expecting but it’s not really that big of a deal because we’re already doing this other thing.” There is also an Important Plot Point about the mother’s estrangement from the parents that actually turns out to be little more than an emotional McGuffin. It’s set up as a Big Deal — Becca even calls her attempt to bring resolution to their problem the “elixir” she wants to bring back to her mother to cure her of destructive relationship behavior. But it fizzles to nothing, like a dud firework, in a way that actually is kind of clever for how it subverts your expectations. (There’s even a moment that feels like Shyamalan referencing and making fun of his Signs “swing away” plot thread.)
The movie and its “what am I watching” weirdness work more often than not — a conclusion I only eventually came to and am still not certain of — in large part because of Becca and Tyler. They are both stilted and natural and ultimately kind of great. The movie frequently uses Becca as a way to explain visual and narrative tricks, but it does so so obviously and she is so know-it-all about it that I actually came to find it funny. And, despite how “Mark Wahlberg talking to a plastic plant” it initially felt, this twitchy part of her character actually feels kind of natural for an older sister who needs to exert control and display her intellectual superiority. Oxenbould is even better at making his character a surprisingly believable blend of affectation, tic and early teen goofiness. Since often your TV and movie teens are played by actors in their twenties — sometimes deep into their twenties — it’s refreshing to see teens who are, like many real-life teens, still very kid-like. Oxenbould and DeJonge’s kidness, along with a really natural brother-sister relationship (one that is two parts annoyance, one part “in it together”), helps to sell these characters, which help to sell this story, which helps to sell all the weirdness that comes with it.
I’m giving this movie the benefit of the doubt that all (or at least most of) this self-consciousness is intentional, that it is purposefully Doing a Thing. And I’ll admit, I was not, at all points in the movie, on board with the Thing. But the Thing It’s Doing is not what’s expected and not something you see every day and at some point I found myself just going with it. (An example of a detail where a similar sense of acceptance plays out: Tyler announces he’s going to replace all swear words with female pop stars’ names, so “Shakira” instead of another “sh” word. This gimmick feels extremely forced, like Shyamalan just saw Steve Carell screaming “Kelly Clarkson” during the waxing scene of The 40-Year-Old Virgin  and wanted to jump on that train. But at some point, it actually starts to work and I found myself genuinely laughing at the way it was weaved into little tense moments.) It’s not great, not The Sixth Sense or even Unbreakable, but it’s not horrible and for Shyamalan “not horrible” at this point in his career might just be a rousing success. B- 
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity and for brief language. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, The Visit is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed by Universal Pictures.    
 





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