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by maryann johanson, liberal movie person

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.

  • Jack Strider

    Wt fuck is she babbling!? This is a great movie in the ever demanding and difficult genre of horror plus. A great great movie. M. Night Shyamalan has arrived indeed!

  • amanohyo

    I decided to skip this one after every single one of the professional critics that share my general taste in movies stated that, like the string of previous Shyamalan films, it was poorly made and nonsensical, each critic then going on to provide specific examples from the movie to support their opinions.

    But then suddenly, over a year later, a stranger on the internet burst in to generously inform me that the film was in fact a great movie indeed, boldly revealing that he was unable to comprehend the brief review he had just read, and ever so sagely providing absolutely no evidence to back up his vague counter-assertions.

    The choice was clear – I immediately sacrificed a meager two hours of my time, and just as the stranger had promised, my body was awash in new sensations, my brain was bathed in the invigorating waters of great greatness, and I experienced what generations to come will no doubt hail as the paragon of the horror plus genre. I’ll never know who that mysterious internet stranger was, but I owe him my life. For it was he and others like him who opened my eyes at last to that fundamental truth of the universe: a life without The Visit from M. Night Shyamalan is no life at all.

  • Danielm80

    I’m still trying to make sense of “M. Night Shyamalan has arrived indeed!” It reminds me of the Ocean’s 11 credits: “And introducing Julia Roberts as Tess.”

  • Jack Strider

    Well, mr. Wiseguy, let me dish and lay and spell it out to you then if you need some reaaal tangible hand to hand guidance in plain English in this obvious issue.

    First of all, the above review was and is so a lame and classless vomit of text I didn’t see it even worth of commenting any further. Who is this critic MaryAnn Johanson writing such personally biased nonsense about M. Night Shyamaln’s great movie, anyway!?

    She starts her lousy “critique” which is rather a bashing rant by using such very “bright” and “analytical” qualifiers as “banal” and “anticlimatic”. Then she goes on trying to be eh “funny” by speculating M. Night Shyamalan might be an “alien”; that’s his “twist” looking for our “weak spots” only that he has “no clue” about “human nature”. Eheheh. So “funny”.

    The “joke” fails only miserably and turns against herself apparently revealing her own cluelessness about “us” and even about the general nature of a thing called art. Since being an “alien” should be considered a compliment for a l’auteur like M. Night Shyamalan who also tends to write his movies by himself. An artist should indeed aspire to be an “alien” who presents also the “banality” and “strangeness” of our ordinary life; the grotesque, madness and – horror within this very human life. In this register Mr. Shyamalan is a master of cinema and The Visit is one of his better movies. The best one since The Sixth Sense; and even better. A so called “little gem” with a cult classic written all over it.- This the meaning of his “arrival” also.

    The double standards at display in this strange female critic’s – MaryAnn something – text are also only too striking. Now there should be also a “proper” family psychological drama happening in the movie – apparently in the vein of some Woody Allen or even some “more serious” director. Well, first, this is not that movie but something else, a quality horror flick with many layers at work, and, second, there are the “wanted” psychological and related symbolic layers of the art nicely developed in The Visit, to the extent fitting for the genre.

    And what about all the cherished holy cow entertainers and melodrama masters – spielbergs, camerons, lucases – whose production consist mostly, let’s be honest, of mediocre trash put together with big budgets and cool effects. Well, maybe they are more “normal” – and uninteresting and ethnically “American” also, lol. I bet our little critic MaryAnn something is much more cautious and flattering in her wordings considering the “master pieces” of these great directors of the modern block buster era.

    If MaryAnn Johanson or something fails to see this or anything else worth seeing in her reviews and criticisms, especially in her nonsensical “assessment” of M. Night. Shyamalan’s work, it is only her defeat and deserves no further ado.

  • amanohyo

    Ah, I see now. I misunderstood the purpose of your comment. In all honestly, I assumed that your goal was to inspire others to watch this movie, in which case it would make sense to be more specific in your praise. It seems that your actual goal was to critique the quality of this strange female critic’s review. I’m not sure what Woody Allen has to do with any of this, but it’s clear your taste in movies is very different from Maryann’s. It’s a good thing that you were able to enjoy this movie and its symbolic layers – one would think it would make you happy to find a piece of art that brings you pleasure.

    And yet somehow the knowledge that there are others who do not share your opinion threatens this happiness. This is because the quality of a piece of art is objective to you, it is a fact that exists outside of your own perspective. If someone criticizes and makes fun of a piece of art that you love, they are calling into question that objective reality, they are saying that you have bad taste in movies because you like a bad movie. They are making fun of you. This unacceptable personal attack makes you defensive and demands a response. Movies are good or they are bad, and you would never like a bad movie, so the person disagreeing with you must be wrong, and you will tell them just how wrong and stupid they are.

    Other people see the world differently, they understand that opinions about art are inherently subjective. If someone makes fun of their favorite work of art and calls it a nonsensical piece of shit not worth anyone’s time, they might be curious as to why the critic feels that way, but this dissenting opinion doesn’t threaten their own opinion or enjoyment. If the critic provides interesting reasons for their opinions, the review might deepen their appreciation by allowing them to see the work from a new angle, it might make them notice something they originally overlooked, it might cause them to refine their reasons for liking the work, but even if the reasons are poor, the review doesn’t threaten to transform their reaction to the work itself or its perceived quality. If the critic approaches art from a perspective that is not interesting to them, they will avoid reading the reviews of that critic and find others that share their values and tastes.

    You liked a movie. You read a review from a critic who disliked it. You are of course free to respond however you like (and MA is free to delete your comments from her own website), but the most productive response would probably be to tell people why you loved the movie. It’s natural to be slightly defensive when people ridicule something that you love, but if you get angry every time a stranger on the internet disagrees with you about subjective things like the quality of a piece of entertainment, you’re going to live a very exhausting and angry life. Some people hate the things you love. Don’t worry, the things you love are still there and you still free to love them. Be happy. Save that anger for more worthy objects of scorn.

  • Jack Strider

    Please stop, man. Jesus, that was one ridiculous, pompous sermon, mr. MaryAnn Johanson’s boy friend or wanna be or cousin or brother or MaryAnnherself, lol.

    First you use scorn and sarcasm in your reply, next you sound like our heavenly father or rather his cheesy representative on Earth; almost a Spielbergian dramatic twist and tone, wow. What is dat, man!? Yeah, gimme a break.

    Okay.

    Let’s get this straight. -As we know these critics are at least pretending to be professionals in what they do, that is reviewing movies. Well, I dunno what is actually MaryAnn’s position in this matter for certainty – or flickfilosopher’s agenda or modus operandi, for that matter. Maybe she is just a teenager with her pretentious needs and moves (the way she blames Shyamalan
    and his teenage protagonist, oh the irony) and flickfilosopher might serve as a platform for enpowerment of pupils in junior high. Or then, maybe, she is a college student writing these “reviews” while smoking pot or
    something. Who the fuck knows. But such considerations could explain and somehow justify the low “quality” of the review above.

    Since otherwise this “review” is simply and plainly pure trash, a very unprofessional product. It just does not qualify. I t does not meet the standards or criteria for a recognized and respect professional movie review
    people read and are generally influence by in their decision-making and opinion
    forming. As such it would be and is only an unethical slander and rant showing
    poor judgement, in more than one way. It
    lacks dignity and professional responsibility.

    Sure, our MaryAnn notes at the outset she is “biast” against Shyamalan, “having lost her faith” in the director. That could serve
    as a weak excuse for what will follow, the personal subjective bashing, but
    then again her acknowledgment should serve as a token and warning sign for her
    very self not to even try and engage in writing or trying to write a review, a
    fairly balanced or professional review, about the given movie. Since she can only fail badly, as she did. Miserably.

    For example, she makes or tries to make fun of Shyamalan’s “alien status” which not only turns against herself in the way I noted in my previous post above but it has also an obvious crypto (and as such not even very crypto)
    racist tone in it; even if it is unintentional or sub or semi-subconscious as it most likely is.
    Shyamalan is not a native or ethnic “American” and does not allegedly understand “us”. Could the critic put it more bluntly or blatantly? Would she make such outrageous or “funny” claims about some “iconic American” director like Steven Spielberg? (Yeah, only if she were a “crypto” anti-Semite she might). Indeed.

    And her view about the “outdated” found-footage technique only raises something like a shared sense of shame. She surely would be more happy to see Shyamalan use, say, the
    state of the art CGI a la James Cameron in invoking and awakening zombies of uncanny valley and ushering them up and out form their muddy graves to harass the children all over the Pennsylvanian countryside. Nuff said.

    And yeah, MaryAnn the critic can delete my criticism from her site all she wants, all right. But it would show some character not to do so but rather and instead accept and take the “beating” as she beat and beat unfairly Shyamalan and his movie first – and in a way that only gave rise to my criticism, to begin with. She is also free to engage in argument with me any time she wants. Here or somewhere else. – If you cannot take the heat, stay outta the kitchen. They say.

    And if you are her or her closed one – no hard feelings. Just take this lesson and let it sink in and be better the next time around. You can always think twice before you put it in the press.

    P.S. The question of aesthetics or ethics is the very question we should argue about. And as fiercely as needed defending our position when the time comes. The dull relativism cannot even defend its own position. So, saying let all the flowers blossom is nothing but a useless nonsensical ‘wish of good will’ turning bad. Like, to give an extreme example, the Nazi program
    for “pure art” or “pure race”.

  • RogerBW

    Congratulations, you put more effort into this rant than M. Night did into the film.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I was thinking the same thing. Didn’t he arrive in 1999, only to then wander off blindly into the woods, and evidently get hit by a truck? (see, cause it’s a reference to The Village, get it? Hehehehehhhhhhnever mind I’ll see myself out.)

  • Jack Strider

    No. I did not. But thanx anyway.

  • Danielm80

    Can you tell us what makes the movie worth watching, beyond a broad statement that it’s a “masterpiece” and a “cult classic”?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    HAHAHAhahahahahaaaa, you up-voted yourself.

    Twice.

  • Danielm80

    Once to show that the comment is a “cult classic,” once to show that it’s a “masterpiece.”

  • Jack Strider

    Hahah. Quite funnny. I’ll give you that.

    But, guys, I mean why not? A man must back himself, belief in himself, appreciate his own contributions in this our little cosmic commonwealth, not?! Who else if not you yourself!

    And I have never even come across a rule or restriction of internet/some protocol which denies expressis verbis one’s constitutional right to up-vote or like one’s own publications or comments. And if I came my resction would be Hell no!

    We all know Trump voted himself as did Hillary. Seeing it live or black on white would not make me nor you for that matter to crack like “lol look guys hahahahah (s)he voted her/himself! Really!”

    Okay. And why to watch The Visit? A strange question actually. Since when you have entered the age in which you need excuses to go to movies, mister? 0ther ones than the plain fact “cuz they are there” – in a theatre near you knowing u can make the first advances and moves in the dark chamber (the real camera obscura lol) and get it really going with your ‘reluctant’ date. Lol. One should make tributes to mov(i)e theatres even for that one, probably partially nostalgic, reason and make sure by one’s behalf this fine great institution carries on

  • Boy, you sure schooled me!

  • Jesus, that was one ridiculous, pompous sermon, mr. MaryAnn Johanson’s boy friend or wanna be or cousin or brother or MaryAnnherself, lol.

    You can fuck off now.

  • Jack Strider

    You are welccome.

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