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Film Review: The Visit (2015)


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Film Review: The Visit (2015)

Posted September 21st, 2015 at 11:24 PM by Necrum

Earlier today I had the pleasure of enjoying M. Night Shyamalan's latest feature, The Visit, in the comfort of an empty theater. Apparently, a matinee showing on a Monday isn't a very popular screening. Go figure. Now, before I start the actual review, I want to say that this film is perhaps best enjoyed without any input from someone like me, or any reviewer, professional or otherwise. The main reason being that it's sort of a benefit to go in expecting a few of Shyamalan's typical antics. It's better not to have any input from me regarding the story or the ending, because quite frankly I had a few theories about what was going on in the film until I was blown out of the water completely by the truth. You have been warned, this review has spoilers. I will warn you before the ending though if that's all you don't want spoiled.


The Visit opens up with a premise sequence comprised mainly of family history. It also sets up some pretty crucial character traits about the lead characters, siblings Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) Jamison. Rebecca is an aspiring videographer who has decided to make a movie documenting their trip to visit their long estranged grandparents. Now this is where the movie shines where so many found footage flicks fail. This "found footage" has a legitimate reason to exist. A reason based in reality that could actually cause The Visit exist. People making documentaries is certainly not a new setting, as even the Blaire Witch Project had this same giblet of rationality. Where The Visit pulls this off is how close and personal the subject is. This is a documentation of their life, not some cheap thrill in the woods for paranormal entheusiasts. I have to consent that as an aspiring videographer myself, I found Rebecca incredibly relatable. Tyler on the other hand is a doofball younger brother who is a germaphobe and a rapper, a combination I never expected or asked for. Tyler does a good job of relieving the tension for a large portion of the film, cementing this as a horror-comedy, one of my favorite genres. Tyler's raps actually bring to mind Scary Movie 3, itself a parody Signs, which had one of the characters try to become a rapper a la Green Mile. Not to say it's not entertaining, while I may not be a fan of the genre, these little freestyle moments are pretty true to how a pair of kids might have a little personal fun with the camera.


As we move on to the train we are introduced to a minor character without a name (that I can remember) who sets up a pretty cool running gag. Or at least it would be, if it were used more than twice. Here and at a later scene, some minor characters see the camera and insist that they had previously been an actor, promptly pulling recitals of former roles out of their ass. This joke seems out of place without a third instance to bring it home. Some antics ensue as one of the flaws of this film rears its head. There are some sections that seem to drag on for too long. This is a problem in a lot of found footage, so I can't fault Shyamalan completely, but still, a little more tightening of the first and second acts would have been nice.


We finally arrive in the middle of psyducking nowhere, the location of about 50% of all horror films. Early on you can tell Shyamalan is poking fun at found footage, horror, and even himself. As soon as they arrive at their grandparent's farm, Rebecca wastes no time setting up an overly artistic shot of Tyler standing in the frame created by a swaying swing. Shyamalan is telling us here that he knows what we've all been saying about his movies. Shyamalan has become self aware, and is perfectly fine with poking fun at himself and subverting his own cliches. This also serves to establish how versed Rebecca is in film analysis. As a result, this may be the most professional looking found footage movie you ever watch, which is a great breath of fresh air in the wake of so many poorly shot, low quality shaky cams. It's also helpful when Rebecca gives Tyler a second camera, allowing for multiple angles in some scenes, but more importantly, we can actually see the difference in the siblings' shooting style. Tyler has an obviously poor eye for what makes a good shot, resulting in a few bottom heavy frames, centered subjects, and all around home movie style to it. Regardless, his shots still tend to be better than most handy cam operators.


The Jamisons' grandparents are portrayed by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobble, who I will refer to as Grandma and Pop-pop from now on, since that's what they're referred to most of the time. These two are presented as two sides of a coin, or I guess four sides, as their initially friendly and fun demeaner is slowly degraded over the course of the week. Grandma and Pop-pop display some very bizarre behavior, even during their more lucid moments. Grandma displays numerous signs of dementia and suffers from a disease called sundowning, which I initially expected to be an excuse and not really exist, and clearly Shyamalan thought so too because he put a scene in explaining that it's a real disease and exactly what it causes. Pop-pop on the other hand has... loose bowels. Amazingly, this is an important plot point. I legitimately cannot believe I just wrote that. Pop-pop wears adult diapers, something he is supposedly ashamed of. While this is instrumental to the climax, I honestly wish this part of the movie had been omitted. He also displays a desire to commit suicide, as evidenced by a very jumpy “shotgun cleaning”. It is my belief that these two make the film work. If these two actors had been cast just a little bit off, the whole movie would have come off extremely cheesy. Instead, Grandma and Pop-pop transition from stable to monsters perfectly in each scene, and they both play their insanity flawlessly.


I could go on and on about each of the individual night scenes, but I feel it might drag on if I do. I will say that these scenes are packed full of tension and effectively unnerved me throughout the film. There is one in particular I want to address. I cannot remember exactly what day of the week it took place on, but after realizing that something is not right, Rebecca decides to allow Tyler to hide one of the cameras in the living room. What ensues is one of the creepiest scenes I've ever seen in found footage. As if to subvert Paranormal Activity's stationary security camera concept, Grandma actually finds the camera and removes it from its resting place. After the initial jump scare the tension does not fade, as Grandma carries the camera with her through the house. Seeing the world from the hands of a psychopath offers a change of pace, as the tone shifts from documentary to horror. There is nothing funny about this scene, but the comedy that surrounds this scene creates the perfect atmosphere to ramp up your nerves.


Speaking of Paranormal Activity, I found a few moments in The Visit that almost seemed to mock it. While I can't say this for certain, there are a few long shots through the living room to the kitchen, which is a pretty common shot in that series. Grandma is shown slamming a closet door multiple times, a scene that conjures images of of victims being trapped in a similar door from the kitchen. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it really seemed like Shyamalan isn't a big fan of found footage.


Really quick I feel I should bring up Rebecca and Tyler's Mom (Kathryn Hahn). She barely appears in the movie because she's vacationing with her new boy toy on a cruise. This isn't a bad thing as far as the plot is concerned, but she would be a minor character if she weren't blood related to everyone. There really isn't enough performance for me to judge with her. Most of her scenes are blatant product placement for Skype, which I am fairly certain most people have at this point anyway so why bother with advertisement?


***SPOILERS AHEAD***


Before I explain the conclusion, I want to share my personal theories regarding the plot that I developed along the way. First was the idea that Mom was actually revealed to be the same kind of monster that Grandma and Pop-pop are. This was a theory I actually saw in the comments of the trailer. I hoped with all my heart that Shyamalan would not use this ridiculously Shyamalan style twist, and much to my relief, he did not. This did lead to another theory I came up with though as I watched the descent into madness. As we approach the end of the movie, it is revealed by Mom that the two people Tyler and Rebecca have been staying with are not their grandparents. Initially I expected a similar yet different theory that I actually would have been okay with. I came to believe that perhaps Mom suffered the same psychosis that her parents did, as sometimes insanity is hereditary. I suspected that these people may still be Mom's parents, but the wastes of time and madness wiping away their memories. I think this would have made for a sadder ending, so perhaps it wasn't a good fit. In addition to this, Night has included enough red herrings to keep you guessing as to the real nature of the odd behavior. One includes a story about aliens, possibly to intentionally induce a groan out of the audience as they start to suspect an infamous plot twist.


Instead the plot took me completely by surprise in the best way possible. As it turns out, Grandma and Pop-pop are actually escaped insane asylum patients who lived in a home that the Jamisons' real grandparents volunteered at. They never had children, so after hearing about Rebecca and Tyler coming to town, they decide to kill the real Grandma and Pop-pop so they can live out the fantasy of having a family. This is the main reason I love this movie. It's real. This whole movie is presented as a documentary of events that could actually happen! Typically in Shyamalan films, the plot is only stable enough to get you through the 90 minutes without it collapsing on itself. This story shows a distinct improvement in his writing, at least as far as plot structure goes.


That said, we are now at the climax and even though it was actually fantastic, I did take issue with a few Shyamalanisms that became clear at this point. Rebecca investigates the basement on their final night after a board game leads them past the 9:30 curfew I forgot to mention before this. It's in all the trailers though so I doubt you really needed me to say it. Anyway, as their game winds down, Pop-pop leads Grandma into the bedroom. Pop-pop then incapacitates Tyler by hitting him in the head with something we never see, allowing Pop-pop to follow after Rebecca just as she discovers the dead bodies. After some struggle, Rebecca ends up in the same room as Grandma. That struggle is mostly typical horror showdown, though executed very well considering the found footage format. The other side of things is a bit different.


Earlier in the film they explore the kids' insecurities regarding their father, who left for another woman. Tyler told a great story about his last experience with Dad, a football game that he froze during, losing them the game. After standing back up, Tyler once again experiences a freeze in the face of his revealed antagonist. Tyler's germophobia is then exploited by Pop-pop in the most face-palm inducing scenes ever. I get that it's a horror-comedy, but taking a diaper and smashing it in a boy's face is so disgusting that it isn't scary in the slightest. In true Shyamalan fashion, it almost seems as if Tyler is only a germaphobe to justify smashing poop in his face, and Pop-pop only has loose bowels because Tyler is a germaphobe. Both traits are so perfectly matched to each other that one simply wouldn't be in the movie without the other. This creates what I like to call a forced justification. A situation in which character traits are justified only by the context of the story instead of being justified by something real. A germ fixation seems a rather odd coping mechanism for a lost father, especially when the same child raps, which itself would be a pretty good way to cope with depression through expression. This entire concept is a repeat of Signs, in which the young child character in that movie also had a character flaw that seemed only to exist for the purpose of allowing the coincidentally weak to water alien to be defeated.


Rebecca eventually escapes from Grandma after stabbing her with a shard of glass, only to face off with Pop-pop. Being much stronger (He psyducking chops wood all day! Is this more plot convenience?) he can easily catch and restrain Rebecca as he prepares to kill them. Tyler snaps at the sight of his sister in trouble, pushing him through the germ issues and freeze to come out like a champion, tackling Pop-pop like he failed to do in the football game five years ago. I actually love this part, and seeing Tyler celebrate his victory like a true football player actually made me smile from ear to ear. I cheered for this boy in the middle of an empty theater! Cops and Mom arrive just a little bit too late, but the kids make it to safety and one hell of a disappointment follows. The events surrounding Mom leaving home are so hyped throughout the movie, that finding out that all it was was a couple of punches was one hell of a let down. Thankfully this is followed by a well delivered lesson about how you shouldn't hold on to your anger. It was a touching scene to say the least.


I walked out of the theater quite pleased by this movie. While certainly not the best in Shyamalan's filmography, this is certainly one of the best found footage flicks I've seen to date. In fact, I actually hesitate to refer to it as an actual found footage movie. As the kids survive, the entire film is most likely supposed to be Rebecca's finished edit. In reality this is a Docudrama with found footage elements, and it works extremely well. The realistic setting and plot set it apart from its peers, and the much improved quality of the film as a whole marks Shyamalan's long awaited return. The film has already raised over fifty million dollars, the film produced at a budget of only five million, meaning that Night has secured a budget for whatever his next project ends up being. Considering he is one of the biggest Hitchcock fans alive, I have no doubt that he will make movies until he dies to try and rival the giant's production count. Night even started a TV series earlier this year. I hope we get something more akin to his older work, as I don't think the low budget thing is very well suited to Mr. Shyamalan's style. I give The Visit 4 stars out of 5.
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  1. Old Comment
    Necrum's Avatar
    I feel I should add one more thing here. I've seen a few reviews that say this movie isn't scary. If you're looking for a thrill ride, then yes, this is not a particularly scary movie. But if you allow yourself to embrace the concepts of what's happening as opposed to what flashes on the screen, I believe this tale is more horror than a fair number of mukty films to come out in recent years. Night has an understanding of what horror is, and it definitely isn't monster, zombies, or jump scares. It's about telling a story which disturbs us, and on many levels this film can disturb.
    Posted September 21st, 2015 at 11:51 PM by Necrum Necrum is offline
 

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