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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

spoiler alert: 2 reasons why The Visit’s ending doesn’t work


[major spoilers for The Visit; spoiler-free review here]

You know what would have been a surprising twist for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, The Visit? If it didn’t have a twist. But Shyamalan seems constitutionally incapable of making a movie that doesn’t want to surprise us with a twist. This is the twist of The Visit: about three-quarters of the way through the film, teen Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her preteen brother, Tyler, (Ed Oxenbould) discover that the grandparents they are visiting, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), aren’t really their grandparents. Nana and Pop Pop are escaped mental patients who murdered their real grandparents and have taken over their lives. And now Pop Pop is trying to murder Becca and Tyler. Why? Who knows? Except he’s a mental patient, and as we all know, crazy people are violent.

Apparently this is meant to harness our fear of old people, which I didn’t realize was a thing. I know many people are afraid of getting old, and of all the issues that accompany old age (going senile, losing people we love, etc). But I didn’t realize that anyone was actually afraid of old people. I’m still not sure that anyone is.

But never mind. That’s not the problem. Some of my fellow critics have seen an offensive “elder shaming” in The Visit, but I don’t see that, either. What bothers me is that the twist — “Those aren’t your grandparents!” — simply doesn’t work. For two reasons:

1) The fake grandparents escaped from a facility where the real grandparents worked as counselors. A couple of their coworkers from the hospital come around the house to check on the real grandparents, worried that they haven’t shown up for their counseling sessions, so clearly, the real grandparents have been missed. (The coworkers manage to miss seeing the fake grandparents and speak only to the kids, so no one is clued it to their switcheroo.) But obviously the fake grandparents must have been missed from the hospital, too — someone must have noticed that two patients, at least one of whom must have a history of violence, are also missing. Even the world’s dumbest police force would at least wonder if there was two and two to be put together, and come around to investigate. The grandparents’ house is remote, but the notion that no one would have noticed that the escaped patients are now living in the home of two of their counselors is unlikely.

But even if we accept No. 1 as potentially excusable, this is the big failing of the story that cannot be explained away:

2) The fact that Becca and Tyler don’t recognize that their “grandparents” are not their grandparents is supposed to be explained by the fact that the kids have never met them before. Their mom (Kathryn Hahn) was estranged from her parents before the kids were born, and she only reconnected with them just before the kids go off for a visit. And we’re told that the kids had to lobby for Mom to let them go, the implication being that the kids wanted to give their single mother a break to go off on a cruise with her boyfriend. There obviously was some cajoling and ganging up on the part of the real grandparents and the kids to get Mom to give the okay for the trip. Skype plays a huge part in this story: the kids Skype regularly with Mom while they are at the grandparents and she is on her cruise. (Nana “accidentally” damaged the camera on Becca’s laptop, so Mom can’t see the fake grandparents. Although I don’t recall a scene in which the fake grandparents are ever present for a Skype call.) It is absolutely inconceivable that, over the course of the campaigning for the kids to go visit their grandparents, there was never a Skype call with the kids, their grandparents, and Mom all on the line. It’s inconceivable, even if there had been no campaigning, that Mom, before sending her children off to meet people they had never met before, didn’t introduce her parents to her children. We know the real grandparents were Internet savvy: they have a Web site for their counseling work, and they have hardwired Ethernet in their house (the kids plug their gadgets right into the wall to connect to their Internet access).

Maybe in the era before high-speed Internet and video phone calls, this “twist” could have worked. But it doesn’t today. And off the top of my head I can come up with at least half a dozen other “twists” that don’t require this level of implausibility. (One: maybe Mom sent them to her parents — and it was really the real grandparents, not scary replacements — for some nefarious reason, like to be indoctrinated into some scary family supernatural shit that she had run away from but recently had a change of heart about and now wants her kids in on the tradition.) It’s almost like Shyamalan simply doesn’t care about telling a cohesive story at all.

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spoiler alert
  • RogerBW

    The twist is the point. Who watches even The Sixth Sense multiple times? OK, maybe once more when you know what’s going on to appreciate how it was done, but after that?

  • shane

    I absolutely understand your logic, however, an Ethernet connection and having some sort of online presence (which from what i recall was simply an immense amount of praise in the form of reviews for their counseling), doesn’t necessarily mean the grandparents were savvy enough for Skype calls. It was evident that both the mother and grandparents didn’t want to see each other, be it in person or via video chat. The likely, yet frankly still far fetched sole means of communication was via a home phone from the grandparents to the kids.

  • The house was the same one the mother grew up in. Which means the parents had the hardwired Ethernet installed themselves (there was no Internet when Kathryn Hahn was a kid). Which means there had to be a reason for her parents to do that. And with the kids and the grandparents so excited to see one another, why *wouldn’t* they Skype?

    For the movie to exist as it does requires a long unbroken chain of people behaving in ways that don’t make sense.

  • Adrian N.

    Exactly how I felt at the end of the movie, I mean I at leas expected that the grandparents were possessed or something, close to what you mentioned in the article. The ending was a suprise, but in a good. It was a complete let down. Although 3/4 of the movie was scary and it does keep you on the edge of your seats!

  • Eric Hoheisel

    You are absolutely right that the movie has major plot holes. However, THE VISIT was a movie made by Shyamalan alone without any consultation. If this had been a studio film many script notes and consultants would have smoothed out the rough edges. I think we forget that most films we see are assembled by a committee of executives, the director, and three or more screenwriters.

    As for the Skype problem, I think you have to remember how much technology has moved in the last few years. The movie was filmed a year and a half ago, probably written over two years ago and in 2012 or so the Skype using population was much smaller. And even today it is pretty small among the over 60 crowd.

  • Rachelle

    They did notice that the psych patients were missing. When the visitors coming to check on the real grandparents mentioned the “gossip” going on at the hospital.

  • Missing patients is not “gossip.” It’s a police matter. Where were the cops?

  • GayGermanGirl

    I watched it like 7 times, though.

  • Inkan1969

    There was no twist in “The Last Airbender”. Just a lot of episode plots mashed together.

  • Kristin

    1.) They do come check on them. Two people come on two separate occasions. If you went to visit someone you only worked with every other week or so and their apprehensive grandchild opened the door to tell you they were occupied at the moment, any rational person would assume that grandchildren knew what their grandparents looked like. The children weren’t upset at the time so no alarm was raised. The doctor would think the volunteers were fine and the mental patients tried to get as far away from that place as they could.

    2.) The mother makes a point of saying she had as little contact with her parents as possible, and if you are going to try and get in contact with the daughter you haven’t seen in 15 years, you don’t Skype her. You call her. On the telephone. Their entire interaction could have been done over the phone. PLUS the laptop was the granddaughters for editing her film. The fake grandparents probably tossed any picture laden laptop that belonged to the real grandparents WITH the real grandparents in that dumpster. That’s just covering your tracks.

  • Wizkid

    Ok I can see all your points, but what in the world kept them at that house when mom tells the that they are fake.. The “grandParents” are in the back yard, Me and my brother are running out the front door ASAP.. why would any of you stray for??

  • Windygirl

    No kidding! Especially a murderous one.

  • Windygirl

    Especially when they establish the kids are “intelligent” lol! My question is why did it take what seemed like hours for the police to finally arrive? Was Barney Fife at the wheel?

  • Windygirl

    The ending of this movie revealed the estrangement was over a BITCH-SLAP FIGHT? Fifteen years? ugh, there’s 94 minutes I’ll never get back…

  • Come to think of it, have we heard about Shymalan recently?

    His new movie opens in January.

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