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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Visit movie review: grandma’s house (of horrors?)

The Visit red light

Over the river and through the woods to yet another banal, anticlimactic attempt at storytelling from M. Night Shyamalan. And this time, it’s found-footage.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): have no faith in M. Night Shyamalan anymore

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I think I’ve figured out the secret of M. Night Shyamalan. His “twist,” if you will. I bet he turns out to be an alien sent to Earth to study humanity. Looking for our weak spots, maybe… except he really doesn’t have even the first clue about us, and his experiments — which have so far taken the shape of movies — mostly go all wrong. He may have imagined, with his flawed understanding of what makes us tick, that The Village and The Happening and (dear god) After Earth were insightful explorations of the human psyche. Or — oh, I bet this is it! — it’s all been one big ongoing test of our patience: How long will we suffer being poked, prodded, and generally annoyed if the first such poking (that would be The Sixth Sense) isn’t unpleasant?

Obviously, Hollywood would have to be in on it. And to be fair, studios headed up by nefarious aliens that mean humankind no good would explain a lot.

Alas, what’s actually going with Shyamalan — in the great tradition of Shyamalan — is likely so ridiculously mundane as to be barely worth discussing. Maybe he really is just a guy who had one, maybe two (Unbreakable, anyone?) decent films in him. Bor-ring!

And now we have The Visit, which is another terrible Shyamalan movie that relies on people behaving in ways real people wouldn’t behave in a situation that makes no damn sense at all because otherwise there would be no story. And — also in the grand tradition of Shyamalan — there’s pretty much no story anyway. A couple of kids — 15-ish Becca (Olivia DeJonge: The Sisterhood of Night) and her little brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), who’s about 12 — spend a week with their mother’s parents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie: 16 Blocks, Brokeback Mountain), and maybe there’s odd doings afoot at their remote rural Pennsylvania house. Is Pop Pop up to something nasty in the woodshed? Does Nana’s penchant for strange nocturnal behavior mean she’s a werewolf? Why shouldn’t the kids, as Pop Pop instructs, come out of their room after 9:30 at night? Why shouldn’t they go into the basement? Is mold really the only unpleasant thing down there?

Here’s a “twist” that came as quite an irritating surprise to me as The Visit opened: this is Shyamalan’s found-footage movie, and if he thought he had something to add to this long-played-out technique, there is no evidence of it here. In fact, it appears to be something of a dodge: Becca, bursting with all the pretensions of teenage auteurs, is making a documentary about their trip to share with Mom (the criminally underused Kathryn Hahn: Tomorrowland, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), who hasn’t seen her parents in 15 years after a falling out with them over the kids’ now-long-gone father, though Mom hints that there is something more to it, too, which she refuses to talk about. (Would a loving mother, as she appears to be, really let her kids go off on their own to the home of, to them, total strangers? But that’s the least of the plausibility problems with how this scenario comes about.) Is Becca Shyamalan’s shield? Will he claim he was sending up affected, self-important young indie filmmakers who aren’t able to craft an effective movie or tell an entertaining story? (As is almost always the case, the found-footage conceit eventually collapses into people running around with cameras when cameras should be the last thing they’re worried about.)

There appears to be a movie happening here, but it’s all flimsy, halfhearted feints at empty air. Becca’s explanation to her brother about how old people get sad and confused and have medical issues and there’s nothing wrong or creepy about that may be true — and it’s certainly nice to see older people figuring in what amounts to a horror movie — but that turns out to be a dead-end sidetrack. A few mentions of “the elixir” that Becca would like to acquire for Mom, something that will help heal her relationship with her parents, sounds intriguing, and means nothing. The Visit never gets anywhere near any meaningful — or even shallow — exploration of the relationship between grandparents and grandkids, or family secrets. And though it clearly hopes to elicit emotions along those charged tracks, it does nothing but inspire outrage that Shyamalan has, once again, managed to trick us into wasting our time on anticlimactic banality.

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

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Visit for its representation of girls and women.

red light 1 star

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The Visit (2015)
US/Can release: Sep 11 2015
UK/Ire release: Sep 09 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong threat, violence)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Harold Hill

    How does this guy still get funding for anything?

  • Aaron Jones

    I saw a screening of it, and still don’t know what to make of it. I don’t think audiences will care. And the found-footage genre needs to die.

  • clayjohanson

    I took a guess as to what the inevitable twist in this movie might be. Then I Googled it.

    I was 100% correct.

    M. Night, time for you to find a new routine.

  • RogerBW

    He’s willing to take on other people’s vanity projects, like After Earth?

  • Morgoth

    I wish Shyamalan would just go away. To this day, his colossal ego won’t let him accept he’s a one-trick pony who’s out of tricks by now.

  • Jonathan Roth

    So, the first review I saw for this movie was a glowing 4.5/5, followed by two angry rock-bottom pans. Metacritic has it around 50% right now.

    Ultimately it seems to have become a referendum on Shyamalan himself, and whether nostalgia for the past makes this a return to form, memory of the present makes this above average for his recent output, or overall analysis has stripped him of the benefit of the doubt.

  • Danielm80

    There’s an old joke: Monday you liked potatoes. Tuesday you liked potatoes. Wednesday you liked potatoes. Thursday you liked potatoes. Now, all of a sudden, today you don’t like potatoes?

    Admittedly, After Earth and Avatar: The Last Airbender didn’t fit into the shocking-plot-twist school of filmmaking. But the rule still holds: If you’re going to keep serving potatoes, they’d better be really good potatoes.

  • Jonathan Roth

    We got baked potatoes and mashed potatoes, then proceeded to have them served raw, flambé, hidden, rotten, and flung at high velocity.

  • Bluejay

    Avatar: The Last Airbender is the name of the animated series. If a Shyamalan movie version DID exist, I’m guessing it would be called simply The Last Airbender to avoid being confused with James Cameron’s Avatar. Of course no such movie exists, but it’s interesting to speculate and shudder at what a horrible mess it would have been, which thankfully it isn’t, because it doesn’t exist la la la I can’t hear you.

  • Or, you know, it’s just a bunch of critics with wildly different tastes and expectations from movies sharing their informed opinions. :-)

  • JustGreg

    I saw it and disagree with this review. I thought it delivered with effective creepiness wrapped up in the “what exactly is going on here?” viewing experience. Definitely engaging and suspenseful.

  • Matt Clayton

    I think the basic premise has potential, but the climax had me veering between laugh out loud ‘is this really happening’ to ‘you gotta be kidding me.’

  • MNM74

    I saw Signs when it was released in theaters in 1999 (?) – to this day, that is the first and last M. Night I-Am-A-Sham movie I have seen. Sixteen years later and I’m still fuming over that hour-and-a-half (plus or minus) of my life that I can’t get back…

  • Use HTML to add formatting: put “<i>” and “</i>” around text you want to italicize, for instance.

  • clayjohanson

    Signs was 2002 — although at first it seemed very clever, Shyamalan’s Quest to Be Clever usually requires him to make some really stupid assertions. For example, we’re to believe that aliens who are capable of interstellar travel are somehow not smart enough to make themselves some protective suits to protect themselves from water which literally covers 70% of the planet and is found almost everywhere? The Signs aliens should have gone to Arrakis — at least there they’d have a chance.

    The Sixth Sense was admittedly actually clever, in that he wrote and filmed the story in such a way that upon first viewing, most people didn’t notice that no one except Haley Joel Osment ever interacted with Bruce Willis’ character after he’d been shot in the opening sequence (a trick which was later recycled in The Uninvited).

    But after that, Shyamalan just kept going back to the same well, over and over and over again. Unbreakable was actually pretty good right up until the lame ending, whose ambiguity was ruined by a couple of screens of text explaining what happened next.

    Signs is when I realized that Shyamalan is a one-trick pony — one that’s been rode hard enough that it’s time for the glue factory.

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