Movie Review with Jeff McCullough: The Visit

By Jeff McCullough on September 20, 2015 from Movie Review via

In recent years, M. Night Shyamalan has become a bit of a joke. After the three-part career suicide that was The Happening, The Last Air Bender, and After-Earth, the once Oscar-nominated filmmaker couldn’t get a job directing a Burger King commercial. But by returning to his horror roots with The Visit Shyamalan delivers a heartfelt, hilarious, and at times terrifying little film, his best in years. While he doesn’t quite rise from the ashes of his once glorious career, with The Visit he at least begins to brush off the soot.
Rebecca and Tyler are two teenagers going through every 13-year-old’s nightmare; a weeklong trip with old, kooky family members they’ve never met, let alone gotten along with. But unlike your average out of touch grandparents, whose worst crime is pinching your cheeks and feeding you cookies until you vomit, Becca and Ty’s “Nana and Papa” exhibit some stranger behavior. And as the trip goes on and circumstances grow stranger, the tweens start to realize they might be in trouble.
Despite its Pg-13 rating, The Visit is actually pretty dang terrifying. While the tone isn’t one of constant dread, the scares are expertly woven in, with many moments of heart pounding tension. One early scene, set in a claustrophobic crawlspace, is a pretty horrifying homage to Alien, just replacing the Extraterrestrial with a naked grandma. I’ll leave it to you to decide what’s more terrifying.
The grandparents in general are just absolutely bone-chilling. There’s something about the elderly that just brings out fear in the young. They look different, they act different—they are just from a completely different generation than the young or even the middle aged. And perhaps most terrifyingly, they know that they too are doomed to grow old and become the very thing they fear.
The actors portraying our elderly antagonists, particularly Deanna Dunagan as Grandma Doris, are just excellent. Grandpa is the saner of the two when he’s not burning piles of used diapers in the lawn or physically assaulting strangers, while Grandma spends most of her time scratching at doors, crawling around like the chick from the exorcist, and baking some nasty looking food I wouldn’t eat if she held a gun to my head.
But what could be one note performances are given a surprising amount of development. Are they crazy old, possibly deranged senior citizens? Sure, but that’s not entirely their fault, and I can certainly feel sympathy for them, even pity.  Getting old sucks, and not everyone ages gracefully. That’s not saying just because you’re getting social security checks you can chase people down with an axe, but it’s a lot easier to feel or them than your average lout with a mask and a machete.
When you step back, even with all the scares, at its core this is a really funny movie. Sometimes The Visit picks the low hanging fruit (grandpa’s bowel problems are a constant issue for the old coot), but man if it didn’t have the theater laughing. Grandma gets most of the best lines, but all four of our principle characters get some good jokes in. It’s a real testament of talent that the tone does such an excellent job of switching fluidly, giving the chuckles and the screams as needed, showing a real display of skill in the director’s chair. Shyamalan might be a bit of a punch line by now, but the man clearly has skill.
If we’re going to pinpoint a weakness though, small as it might be, is that the ending maybe wraps up a little too well. It’s hard to go into a lot of detail without spoiling the twists (there’s several of them, and they are excellent), but for me, things end on maybe too happy of a note. After going through the nightmare that they did, Becca and Tyler are changed people, and while this is played upon, it’s not harnessed as effectively as perhaps it could have been. Shyamalan is normally known for his strong endings, leaving The Visit’s abrupt conclusion a small blemish on an otherwise extremely solid film.
A lot of people are probably going to go into this film with a negative bias just because it is an M. Night film, and while that’s understandable (After-Earth was REALLY REALLY bad you guys), but you need to judge The Visit on its own merits. It’s not just a great return to form for Shyamalan, but a great movie in general.  Give it a shot; just don’t take your granny with you.

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