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Overstays Its Welcome

Universal Pictures
 94 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan 
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould
The Visit

How bad is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest attempt to revive his career, The Visit? So bad that I’m going to do something I don’t usually do in a review. I’m going to tell you the scariest moment in the movie. It occurs when an elderly incontinent man removes the soiled adult diaper he’s wearing and shoves it in the face of a 13-year-old boy who is too scared to move out of the way. And, since this isn’t a graphic scatological film like The Human Centipede, but rather a PG-13 movie aimed in part at the teen audience, you don’t actually get to see the moment of truth, for reasons we’ll discuss later. The audience should be able to sympathize with the boy on the receiving end of the “treat” at that point because Shyamalan had been doing the exact same thing to them for the previous 90 minutes of the movie.


Largely as a result of the success of his first movie, The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan was a one time hailed as a latter day Orson Welles, a writer-director of tremendous talent and unlimited potential. But, after he made Signs in 2002, Shyamalan’s career went steadily downhill, so much so that he wound up taking on for-hire projects making horrible dreck like Will Smith’s After Earth. But he’s finally back working off an original script for the first time since his career low point, The Happening, but the years spent in directorial purgatory don’t seem to have helped his writing or his directing.


The first, and biggest, sign that The Visit is in trouble occurs when viewers figure out, less than five minutes into the movie, that they are watching a found footage movie. I honestly think that the found footage gimmick has been milked for every last possible bit of originality. Most filmmakers have already figured this out, and the only ones making these types of movies anymore seem to be newcomers working with minimally talented casts and minuscule budgets. Shyamalan at least has enough of a budget to allow for decent production values in making The Visit, and he’s got a cast of talented supporting performers like Kathryn Hahn. But, for some reason, he decided to incorporate the found footage gimmick into The Visit. The results are predictable, and none too good.


At least, Shyamalan figures out a reasonably plausible explanation for the found footage. The Visit is a story of two young teens, 15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge), and her 13-year-old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). Olivia fancies herself a budding filmmaker, so she decides to make a documentary of her upcoming trip to meet her grandparents for the first time. Her mother (Kathryn Hahn) left home at a very young age under trying circumstances to get married against her parents’ wishes and was rewarded by having her husband dump her and the kids years later for another woman. Becca and Tyler figure that the trip is both a good way for them to meet their grandparents and an excuse to alow  Mom and her new boyfriend to go off on a cruise.


Of course, things don’t work out that way. At first, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are sweet but straight out of American Gothic square (they live on a rural farm). But soon, Nana, and to a lesser extent, Pop Pop, start acting very strange, doing things like forgetting to wear underwear or peeling wallpaper off the walls at night. And Nana even asks Becca if she’ll help clean the oven by climbing all the way inside.


Now, it’s a staple of bad horror movies that characters have to act incredibly stupid and ignore obvious warning signs that they are getting in trouble. Normally, I would be willing to cut the children some slack in that regard (and definitely would if they were five years younger), but these kids are shown to be quite smart. Becca is quite knowledgeable about the film world, and Tyler fancies himself a young rapper (his rap efforts are so annoying that I was actively hoping something bad would happen to his character to shut him up). So, while you can’t blame them for not figuring out exactly what’s going on, they should know enough not to climb into an oven.


Unlike many found footage horror films, the acting here is quite good, as are the production values when Shyamalan isn’t playing games with his camera. Unfortunately, the bane of the found footage film, the bad camerawork at key moments of the movie, comes back to ruin the climax. It’s not giving too much away to reveal that the children are eventually in big danger, and there’s a climactic sequence that might have been rather suspenseful if filmed differently. However, Shyamalan has a lot of out-of-focus, out-of-frame, poorly framed, badly shaking hand held shots so as to make these scenes either ridiculous or impossible to figure out or both. The scene in which the petrified Tyler is confronted by Pop Pop and his diaper is badly out-of-frame and shot from a distance behind the boy, minimizing all suspense and even minimizing the disgust factor.


The Visit has a trick ending, but it’s not an earth-shattering one like the reveal at the end of The Sixth Sense. Indeed, we do learn why Nana and Pop Pop are acting so weird, but the real surprise is that it’s no surprise at all. It’s merely one of a dozen or so possibilities that made equally little sense and didn’t serve to escalate the tension in any way. Cinematically, the surprise was the equivalent of opening the envelope and learning that Colonel Mustard was the killer instead of Mr. Green.


And, while I’m at it, I have to criticize Shyamalan for trying to mine humor out of the actions of two elderly, possibly senile people. I doubt that he would have poked similar fun at blind or otherwise physically handicapped people. For some reason though, he seems to think that the sight of a 70-something-year-old woman pulling up her dress absent mindedly and showing off her bare rear end is the height of hilarity.


The Visit had potential as a horror suspense film. The idea of children at an isolated farmhouse with two grandparents who aren’t quite right is potentially quite scary, as long as the script takes care to build the suspense. Here, virtually every plot development is telegraphed well in advance, and the villains are more pathetic and pitiable than sinister.  Add to that a climactic sequence that’s about as scary as seeing one’s grandmother’s naked rear end, and it’s clear that M. Night Shyamalan overstayed his welcome about five minutes into The Visit.   

Read other reviews of The Visit:


The Visit (2015) on IMDb