Directed by M. Night Shymalan.
2015. Rated PG-13, 94 minutes.
Becca (DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Oxenbould) are going alone to visit their grandparents for an entire week. Even though they are teenagers, they have never before met them due to the rift between their grandparents and their mother. When they arrive, Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie) are doting on them, as expected and trying to get to know them, and just seem to be enjoying their company. However, it soon becomes pretty clear that there is something off about Nana and Pop Pop. Way off. For starters, Nana goes buck bananas every night starting at 9:30. Pop Pop has his issues during the day and he sneaks off suspiciously to deal with them. Both are way over on the creepy side even when they’re behaving somewhat normally. Becca and Tyler just trying to make it through the week ensues.
Let’s deal with the dirty diaper in the room right off the bat. If you’ve seen this movie, you will fully understand the reference I just made. And you’ll probably cringe. Anyhoo, we can’t go any further without talking about the director. In this case, it’s the notorious M. Night Shyamalan. You know him. He’s the guy that made everyone think he was great because he directed that wildly overrated film The Sixth Sense. Yup, I said overrated. Many of you wrongly believe it was an instant horror classic. I loved his follow-up, Unbreakable, but not enough of you saw it to matter. You all waited until he made Signs and bought in to that crap. Shortly thereafter, he made The Village and even you, his staunchest supporters, couldn’t deny that he was a terrible filmmaker. It doesn’t help that he actually writes everything he directs. That just means he’s terrible on two fronts instead of one. Here’s the thing, he actually tells good stories when we’re talking about the beginning and the middle. It’s the end where he consistently shits all over himself. Dirty diapers. He puts out one movie after another where the story seems goes along pretty good and, f--- a shark, the whole thing jumps a megalodon because he insists on giving us some insane, and often inane, twist. People who consider themselves either critics or just regular folk have been consistently complaining about this dude’s movies. Based on that, it’s difficult to understand why he keeps getting money to make them. It clears up when you note that most of them make a ton of money. Okay, fine.
That brings me to The Visit. Shyamalan’s strengths are again on display during the first two thirds of this film. That means the story moves along at a very nice pace and draws us into what’s happening in front of us. A fairly constant stream of things happen that make us tell ourselves we have to see where this is going. Lots of it is related to Nana, who has the whole wide-eyed psycho thing going a lot of the time. There is a pseudo-medical explanation for it that works. Pop Pop’s gruffness also has a hand in it. However, the biggest reason we’re intrigued is it begins to feel like the kids are in danger very early on and the tension derived from this mounts as the film progresses with nary a break. The moments we get to breathe are mostly during their Skype calls to mom, or during Tyler’s ridiculous attempts at rapping. The latter of which serves as comic relief. There is also another type of comedy on display, too, a rather dark kind. It occasionally works, but often comes off as a bit too obvious to be anything other than a reference to something else. For instance, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen Nana asking Becca to get into the oven. It happens twice in the film, but neither time really works to create the scare Shyamalan seems to be going for. However, it does work as a reference to the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” and underscores the overall sense of danger.
To pull us through this part of the film, actually through the whole thing, we only have a small cast. The two kids are okay, at best. Actually, I have to walk that statement back a bit. Olivia DeJonge is okay as Becca. She gives us a decent performance, but isn’t particularly memorable. Ed Oxenbould is not so good as Tyler, but is elevated to an overall grade of “okay” by five epic minutes during the film’s climax. I’m trying to think of a way to explain this without spoiling the moment. I really can’t other than to say if I had been playing the role, I don’t think I could’ve done that part without completely freaking out even though I knew what was happening involved a prop that wasn’t the real thing. Sorry if that’s too vague, but if you see the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The real stars of this thing are Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie as Nana and Pop Pop, respectively. They completely sell every moment of it.
What sets this film apart from much of Shyamalan’s filmography is that the third act doesn’t hinge on some unbelievable revelation that renders everything before it pointless. There is indeed a revelation during this part of the movie, but it makes sense. It’s a bit under-explained, but compared to what the director normally does, it’s downright predictable. In this case, predictable is good. We’re not watching someone try to reinvent the wheel and yank us out of the movie when they do. Here, it’s more like “I knew it,” and things continue from there because our new gained knowledge doesn’t make the kids any safer. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Combine that with the increasingly heinous actions of the grandparents and we’re drawn further into the movie rather than repelled by it. The next sentence is one I’ve written begrudgingly because I’m not a fan of M. Night Iamasham, or his movies, other than Unbreakable. The Visit is pretty dang good. I know, I know. He directed it, so you still hate it. So what.