Wednesday, September 16, 2015

To Grandmother’s House We Go: “The Visit” is a Creepy, Weird, and Generally Satisfying Thriller

No one is more sick and tired of found footage films than me. The more time that passes after having seen “The Visit,” the new thriller from the once-great M. Night Shyamalan, the more it grows on you. There are certainly elements to the film that can only be described as weird. And it’s rather funny – on purpose. The more you think about it the more you realize that was sort of what Shyamalan was going for; something strange and silly with decent scares. It feels like a crowd pleaser, it feels like the type of film he used to make – the one you want to tell everyone about. It’s not nearly in the same vein as say “The Sixth Sense” but that’s no surprise. He hasn’t made a genuinely satisfying film in many years but this seems like the first step back in the right direction.

If you’re sick of the overuse of “found footage” style of horror films that have saturated the multiplexes lately there’s not much I can say to convince you that “The visit” is very different. However, this is easily one of the best looking and well-shot of all these types of films. And of course it is, because look at the who’s behind the camera. Shyamalan isn’t going to compose ugly shots with low quality film even though the majority of the film’s footage is supposedly being shot by a young girl no older than fourteen. The story consists of a single mother (played by Katherine Hahn) who sends her two kids to stay with her estranged parents, whom her kids have never met. There’s older daughter Becca (Olivia DeJonge) who’s an aspiring filmmaker and her younger brother Tyler (Ex Oxenbould). Becca has decided to document her stay with her grandparents by shooting a documentary about her family. Tyler is the typical annoying younger brother; who likes to rap. He raps a lot. It’s weird. Some people liked this characterization; I found it uncomforable and unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the film except make it more bizarre. But I digress.

Becca and Tyler’s grandparents, known only as Nana and Pop Pop are played by Deanna Dugan and Peter McRobbie. They might be the strangest horror film couple since “The People Under the Stairs.” These two elderly actors give fine, weird, full throttle performances. They are peculiar people and they do weird things – and Becca and Tyler notice it. They seem nice enough, but the film wants us to agree that these folks seem just a tad… odd. It feels like a set-up for a Goosebumps book to be honest, but the film has playful fun setting up some of the oddities of this couple and Becca and Tyler’s concerns as they realize something isn’t quite right. Nana stares into a well and even chases the kids underneath the house. There’s also way more old lady nudity here than anyone could have been expecting. And that’s where Shyamalan seems to be having fun: by showing us stuff we’re not quite expecting, including a late story plot development that makes sense and isn’t all that predicable. And let's not forget the best use for human feces since "The Help."

The film does have some solid moments of fear but I never would call it all that frightening. You jump here and there and there’s a modest sense of foreboding, but it mostly consists of Nana and Pop Pop showing up within frame when you’re not quite expecting them. The film is more creepy than outright scary and there’s a strong playful quality with well-timed humor that ups the enjoyment factor immensely. Even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Tyler character, he did have some pretty decent lines and moments. The film also feels almost too oddly sentimental by trying to delve deeply into a broken family but the drama isn’t as well earned as it is in “The Sixth Sense.” Ultimately the sappy stuff fails to bring much emotional weight to the proceedings but there’s far more going on here thematically than in any of his recent films.

“The Visit” is practically a joy to sit through after so many painful missteps. It’s easily Shyamalan’s best work in years, though that doesn’t seem so much as a compliment than as a statement of fact. “The Visit” has enough thrills and laughs and originality to make up for its shortcomings. Some people will likely find the film ultimately silly and lame which would also make sense. However, it’s certainly one of the better shot found footage films in a while. Shyamalan just may be starting to get his grove back, and I like it.  GRADE: B

Trailer for The Visit on TrailerAddict.


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