[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.