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John’s Horror Corner: The Visit (2015), M. Night Shyamalan’s latest twist into a very credible dark fairy tale.

September 16, 2015

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MY CALL
: This film is strange, loaded with disarming comic relief, geriatrically creepy, twisted, and doesn’t feel like found footage…all in a good way. The theme would have worked better if rated-R, but this still stands out as an exceptional with solid performances from our young actors.

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M. Night Shyamalan (Signs, The Village) has always been a favorite writer and director of mine. I don’t care what the haters say. He picked up some flak for The Village (2004), The Happening (2008) and The Lady in the Water (2006), but I tend to enjoy his movies despite the noticeable drop in quality after The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002). I won’t even get into The Last Airbender (2010)—we’ll just call that a mistake. And I was captivated by Devil (2010; which he did not direct).

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More playfully approached than in his past endeavors, Shyamalan returns to tell the Grimm-undertoned story of two young children going to meet their estranged grandparents for the first time. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) is conflicted about the visit, having not spoken to her parents in the fifteen years since she left on bad terms as a teenager. We all know from the trailers that the grandparents seem nice yet weird. Perhaps just early onset dementia…? Or perhaps a big Shyamalanadingdong twist! Because that’s what we’ve come to know Shyamalan for, right? Big twists. Bruce Willis was dead the whole time! Sam Jackson was the villain! Everything happens for a reason—SWING AWAY! So it’s fair to say that there is almost definitely something behind the curtain that isn’t evident from the trailer.

The performances by the two child actors are compelling and manage to direct us through the story surprisingly effectively. The 13 yr old boy Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) seems gawky at first, but he turned out to be great and what seemed the least credible about him at first quickly became his most endearing characteristic. He provides the more naïve perspective along with the comic relief, rapping in front of Nana, joking about dead bodies in the work shed (far before anything strange has happened), and being the first to frighten. The first two thirds of this film will find you smiling quite often and nearly entirely due to this character’s welcomed antics. It may downplay the urgency but it also contributes to lowering our guard.

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The older sister Becca (Olivia DeJonge), our filmographer in this odyssey of estranged family reunification, is the serious one. Intent on uncovering and documenting her grandparents’ forgiveness for her mother’s alienation, she keeps the story grounded and provides a credible case for found footage as she sets out to simultaneously feed her hunger for filmmaking and mend a sundered family. She is articulate, perceptive beyond her years, and along with Tyler she harbors a powerful insecurity after recently being abandoned by her father.

Both children excel in offering refreshingly sincere performances and credible characters. Between their anxious mother and their quirky senescing grandparents, these children serve as our home base in terms of sanity. But we also watch as they turn a blind eye to some red flags in the name of senility and their desire to have a more complete family.

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After some understandably awkward introductions, their week of family bonding kicks off with some home cooking by day and an intro to the weirder side of senility by night. It turns out that Nana (Deanna Dunagan) suffers from a form of nocturnal dementia called sun downing. Her mornings are filled with a sweet, meek farmhouse manner. But her late nights are filled with projectile vomiting, charging through the hallways, and nude wall scratching—making her a good candidate for a home visit from an old priest and a young priest. But it’s not just Nana. Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie; Daredevil) is occasionally non-responsive, paranoid, confused, and he’s doing something in his work shed. He also doesn’t want the kids in the basement or to leave their bedroom after 9:30pm. Many elderly folks run a tight ship and have some reasonable rules of the house, but these just raise suspicions.

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“Eat all you want.”

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“Could you get in the oven to clean it?”
How Hansel and Gretel-esque.

With each day they seem to encounter increasingly strange behavior lending less and less credence to the grandparents’ mental wellness or the kids’ safety. However, our guard is dropped with the understanding that “they’re just old.” We are reminded of this notion repeatedly by the grandparents themselves. We want to accept their frailties and overcome our feeling of uneasiness. We, too, have grandparents and we don’t want to take away their independence should they start to fade…at least, not until they’ve faded too far. And how far is too far? This story tests that boundary.

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“What do you mean they’re acting weird?”

As if serving as a countdown of some horrible conclusion, each day is marked by a caption on the screen…Monday….Tuesday…Wednesday… The visit wears down to its last days and the weird behavior mounts, and so does Becca’s penchant to film interviews and capture the catharsis of forgiveness to help heal their long-estranged family. No matter how strange (or bad) things seem, she still wants her interview—and Nana really doesn’t seem comfortable giving that up. One must wonder why.

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I often questioned just where this ride was taking us? Some people stop by the house and I start to wonder if the grandparents are possessed by some unconventional means, or if they are part of a cult, or if they are being compelled or threatened to do something to the kids. Was their mother unknowingly going to be a victim of one of these things until she escaped by running away?

With The Village (2004) and The Lady in the Water (2006) under his belt, it should come as no surprise that Shyamalan festoons his story with dark fairy tale imagery. “We’re off to grandmother’s house” located far from the nearest neighbors with Nana filling her fare with freshly baked confections, a Grimm flashback as she urges her granddaughter into the oven with a bizarre smile, a grandfather smacking of a twisted “woodsman” role, things start out so nice but slowly degenerate into their true nature, and all of the house “rules.” Further seasoning this fairy tale stew is Becca’s reference to a magical elixir (i.e., forgiveness) to cure her mother and Nana tells tales of another planet where everyone can be happy together. This is framed as a cautionary tale, but with the caution kept secret until the end.

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More creepy than scary, littered with down-to-earth comic relief, and with a premise that makes found footage appropriate–this is an example of film done right as it distracts us from the finish line while providing all the signs that clearly point us in the right direction. It also hardly feels like found footage after the first 10 minutes as the shots are typically steady.

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The final twist is horrifying in concept but doesn’t translate to film as effectively as Shyamalan’s past reveals have. But I don’t care. I liked it a lot for what it was. The scenes are all entertaining, whether funny or tense. Truly, though, from the light-hearted and often comical opening acts, Shyamalan was trying to transition us to more dire feelings. It only sort of worked. I must also admit that this was something that really wanted to be rated R. Of course, that’s not Shyamalan’s style. But I think that an R-treatment would have improved it; it would have fueled the shift from comic relief in the beginning to a third act of greater gravity.

Overall, I was very pleased with this.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor De Leon permalink
    September 16, 2015 10:41 am

    pretty stoked to get around to seeing this one. great review, John! (I just glanced over it, since I haven’t seen it yet) glad to hear it’s a step in the right direction for M. Night’s return to form. (I like his films, too, even though at times they feel like guilty pleasures for me, but he can sure write) did you ever see the pilot for Wayward Pines? M. Night directed that and it was pretty good.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      September 16, 2015 10:49 am

      I have seen none of Wayward Pines yet. If you have a review please post it in a comment.

      • Victor De Leon permalink
        September 17, 2015 9:10 pm

        never got around to reviewing any of the eps. cool show though. maybe if amazon or netflix make it available, you can check it out. It ran 10 eps. It isnt really horror but it has some elements of it thanks to M. Night’s influence on the story.

  2. September 17, 2015 11:13 am

    It’s a fun movie that shows M. Night Shyamalan still has some skill left in him. Nice review.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      September 18, 2015 8:58 am

      I like to think all of his ideas are good…but some just don’t translate as well (perhaps with him directing). Did you review this? If so please feel free to include a link in the comments!

  3. September 25, 2015 2:38 pm

    Just reviewed this John. I liked it quite a bit myself 🙂 https://parlorofhorror.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/the-visit-2015-movie-review/

    • John Leavengood permalink
      January 18, 2016 7:01 pm

      I’m about due to watch this again. Goodnight Mommy vaguely reminded me of it.

Trackbacks

  1. John’s Horror Corner INDEX: a list of all my horror reviews by movie release date | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. John’s Horror Corner: Goodnight Mommy (2014), the story of a mother scorned by her children’s distrust…or children scorned by an evil imposter! | Movies, Films & Flix
  3. Split: Welcome to the Shyamalanaissance | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. John’s Horror Corner: They Look Like People (2015), indie psychological horror pitting the voices against friendship. | Movies, Films & Flix

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