The Visit

Movie Information

The Story:  Two teenage kids are shipped off to the spend a week with grandparents they've never met. Strange events ensue. The Lowdown: Though hailed in some corners as a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan, this is just the same old thing dressed in cheap found-footage clothing. The tag line ought to be, "Doesn't suck as much as his last two movies."
Score:

Genre: Tepid Found Footage Horror
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould. Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn
Rated: PG-13

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I have the distinct feeling that M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit is receiving a kind of free pass of good — or at least passable — marks simply because it’s not as dire as his last few movies, and possibly because it’s relatively short and takes less time to trudge your way to its typically unsurprising surprise revelation. Neither of these things, however, makes Mr. Shyamalan’s little foray into the land of found-footage horror what you might reasonably call desirable. Apart from the fact that Shyamalan is here intentionally trying to be funny — and less successfully than The Happening (2008) managed by accident — it’s nothing new under the sun. This is the same old Shyamalan false-shuffle, but with a smaller (and cheaper) cast and an exploitation-level budget. The worst of that is that its $5 million price tag means it will be in the black before you read this. The good news is that there’s no even slightly rational way it can spawn an actual sequel. Then again, considering how idiotic — yes, that’s the word for it — the story is, there’s perhaps a possible irrational sequel.

 

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The story, such as it is, involves two precocious movie kids — burgeoning filmmaker Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and wanna-be rapper (sort of a barely pubescent Vanilla Ice) Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) — being sent to their grandparents so mom (Kathryn Hahn) can spend a week on a cruise with her latest boyfriend. That might sound reasonable, but it doesn’t take into account that mom hasn’t seen or talked to her parents since she left home — under never-spoken-of circumstances — when she was 19, and the kids, of course, have never seen these people. Just how this was even arranged is kind of vague, but in this movie that scarcely matters. Considering the kind of film this is, we can be assured that Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are Not Quite Right. Oh, it’s nothing serious — just things like Nana wandering naked around the house at night and clawing the walls, and urging Becca to crawl into the oven to clean it, while Pop Pop makes age-related excuses for her, has mysterious outbursts of anger and occasionally dresses to go to a party that never happens.

 

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Just to make sure we know we’re in Shyamalan country, there are things that would be at home in The Village (2004), like The Basement That Must Not Be Entered, The Shed That Must Not Be Used, etc. It’s also clearly Shyamalan in that the reasons for these things are transparent. Plus, these kids — especially Becca — are credulous as hell. Even granting that horror movies of a certain kind only keep going because the characters insist on doing stupid things, The Visit manages to tarnish that lily with gilt. Worse, it assumes that everyone in the movie — and apparently the audience — is equally clueless. Even the slightest glimmer of intelligence or even simple observation would bring the proceedings to a halt, but that would keep Shyamalan from getting to his big ending — one that manages the considerable feat of being tasteless and a damp squib all at once. In short, it combines “Yuck” and “That’s it?” in one sinking fit of dumbness.

 

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The whole business of making The Visit as a found-footage thriller feels like Shyamalan’s desperate bid for being “with it.” (And really, there’s no one more square than M. Night Shyamalan.) No one told him that he was coming in on the 15th day of this nine-day wonder approach to filmmaking. Even if he hadn’t, this approach adds nothing whatever to the movie. Worse, Shyamalan is incapable of really subscribing to the peculiar ethos of the form. He may roughly follow the approach, but he can’t do it without cheating. More, he can’t bring himself — with all the shaky-cam in the world — to turn in something that doesn’t look like a Hollywood movie. The whole thing is too carefully composed and professionally lit to pass for found-footage — even found-footage supposedly shot by a talented amateur filmmaker. Yeah, it’s the best looking found-footage movie ever made — and it’s an obvious fake. Oh, well. At least it can truly be said that, no, it doesn’t suck as much as his last two films. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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16 thoughts on “The Visit

  1. Bob Voorhees

    Mr. Hanke writes that the movie is: a) “idiotic” — Yup
    b) “tasteless” — You bet
    c) “fake” — si But, But, But — Grandma did have a cue little butt, and
    the shitty-diaper-in-the-face was awfully clever – – –
    and the munchkin’s rap song about it will be a classic of the genre

      • Bob Voorhees

        Well, Sir Kenneth, I was thinking of two-door convertibles, but you may have guessed “rap” (or perhaps you need to Google “genre”)

        • Ken Hanke

          1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content
          2: kind, sort
          3: painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usually realistically

          • Bob Voorhees

            So, Mr. Hanke, if we agree that “rap” music (to me the term is an oxymoron) is indeed a form of “music” (both of us having consulted Google), then your first question (“What genre would that be?”) is confusing. At first I thought perhaps that you were thinking of that delightful Southern tradition of giving boys two first names (eg, “Billy-Bob”). I thought you might have a friend or relative named Jan-Ray.

          • Ken Hanke

            It was a wisecrack directed at your lack of specificity, since there are two — even three — genres at work here: the horror genre, the rap genre, and the found-footage genre (or sub-genre). The perfectly fair question was which of these genres you were in reference to.

  2. Speros

    Relax, its just a movie. Also, its not “found-footage.” For as many times as you use that term, you’d think at some point you’d recognize that this movie is just having fun with the trend. “Even the slightest glimmer of intelligence or even simple observation” should allow you to do so. Big blood red title cards. Psychotic murderous old folks. Did you catch any of that? Perhaps like the main character in the movie, Shyamalan felt in the past he was taking himself a little too seriously, and wanted to lighten up a little. Maybe you should do the same.

    • Ken Hanke

      You can dress it up any way you want — note that the footage isn’t “found” — but it still uses that format.

  3. Barry

    I considered walking out when the boy went into his first rap (since it was early in the film I thought maybe I could get my money back), which fortunately didn’t last long. But I’m puzzled by the praise for this film. I found it neither remarkable nor terrible. The two other people in the theater seemed similarly unaffected.

    • Ken Hanke

      I thought it was pretty terrible, but I am indeed puzzled by the praise.

      • Edwin Arnaudin

        Perhaps in certain circles it’s now fashionable to champion Shyamalan after his string of stinkers.

        • Ken Hanke

          Yes, well…

          I never thought much of him since the beginning.

  4. Me

    For a better version of a film called The Visit, check out this one. Its now streaming on Amazon.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7A8MrCOozFo

    “This film documents an event that has never taken place – man’s first encounter with intelligent life from space”, but ever since the invention of radio, humans have been sending signals into space, announcing their existence to other civilizations. With unprecedented access to the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, the military, and experts from leading space agencies, the film explores a first contact scenario, beginning with the simplest of questions: Why are you here? How do you think? What do you see in humans that we don’t see in ourselves?

    A journey beyond a terrestrial perspective, revealing the fears, hopes, and rituals of a species forced not only to confront alien life forms, but also its own self image.

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