Grandparents are so weird.
Paula (Kathryn Hahn) is, after all of these years, finally connecting with her parents, who now want to meet the grand-kids they’ve heard so much about, but have never actually seen. Even though she’s got a trip planned with her boyfriend, Paula still allows for her kids, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) to go and head out to rural Pennsylvania, where they’ll meet their grandparents and spend a week at their house. In order to document for their mom, Rebecca brings a video-camera with her along the way, which even inspires Tyler to do the same. Once they get there, they soon realize that there’s something awfully aloof with grand-mom and grand-pa. Grand-mom (Deanna Dunagan) likes to run around in the middle of the night, in the nude, banging on doors, and, generally, creeping Tyler and Rebecca out; whereas grand-pa thinks that people are always following him and acts out in strange ways, as well. Though they’re told that all of this weird behavior has to do with their grandparent’s age, Tyler and Rebecca still want to figure out just what the hell’s going on by snooping around and trying to understand their family’s history a whole lot more.
And maybe even figure out why they aren’t allowed in the basement.
By now, it’s a common-known fact that M. Night Shyamalan has become something of a punch-line. While his career started off all bright, pretty and inspired, ever since the Village, it’s been plagued with nothing bad decision, after bad decision. In fact, the movies got so horrible that eventually, people started turning on the ones that actually made Shyamalan a trusted house-hold name (like the Sixth Sense and/or Unbreakable). And while it can be definitely be argued that he hasn’t made a good movie since 2004 (giving the Village a whole lot of credit here, I know), there’s still something about him that makes me feel like there’s maybe just one good movie left in him.
Is the Visit “that” movie? Kind of.
Which, yes, I know may not sound like much at all, but considering what we’ve been seeing from Shyamalan in the past decade or so, it’s actually quite the statement. While it’s nowhere near the genius of the Sixth Sense or earlier-parts of Signs, the Visit is still a fun movie that shows Shyamalan is capable of taking the found-footage format into certain areas that we least expect it to be, especially with him at the helm.
Did the movie really need to be filmed in this format? Not really, but it helps add a certain level of eeriness that can sometimes be so strange, it’s actually entertaining. However, whereas with the Happening, where we were laughing at how incredibly serious Shyamalan seemed to be taking his goofy-as-all-hell material, this time, it seems like he’s actually in on the joke and knows that what he’s presenting, is indeed silly. There are moments where it seems like Shyamalan wants to make this story a whole lot more serious than it actually appears to be, but these are the moments that he actually focuses the least on.
Most of the time is spent in the dark, where we don’t know what’s lurking in those shadows or behind those closed-doors; all we do know is that whatever we see, will be creepy and possibly, make us jump out of our seat.
Does that mean that the movie’s actually “scary”? Kind of, but not really. However, there isn’t a problem with that because Shyamalan’s intent doesn’t seem to be giving us the jeeper’s creepers; he mostly just wants to give us a fun, little “boo” moment every so often, keep our minds awake, and our eyes dead-set on whatever comes next. Whether this movie can be best classified as a comedy, or as a horror-thriller, doesn’t seem to matter because it takes away from the fact that, basically, Shyamalan is having a good time here.
And honestly, when was the last time we saw that?
That said, there are still problems to be focused on and show that, even though he’s getting better and back to his old ways, Shyamalan still has some issues to get past. For one, the final-half gets so ridiculous and so insane, that when we realize that it’s actually supposed to be a heartfelt tale of these kids’ own journey to get over the abandonment from their dead-beat dad, it feels odd. At one point, the movie was an uproarious, campy-as-crap creep-fest that features a barn full of dirty diapers, and then, randomly, becomes a super-dee-duper serious piece of melodrama. It doesn’t feel right and in all honesty, sort of makes the last-half seem like it was directed by a different person.
But then again, the movie does get by on the fact that it is fun and the cast is mostly to thank for that. Though they are basically playing kid-types that movies such as this love to write snappy dialogue for, Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge are both good enough performers to get by some of the more annoyingly straining lines of dialogue. For instance, Oxenbould’s Tyler likes to rap, which occasionally leads to scenes where someone will give him a word and he’ll find a way to put in his jam; think of the “milkshake” dude from Before Sunrise, but instead of free-verse, cheap-ass poetry, it’s some kind who thinks he spits game like Tyler the Creator, but instead, is a lot more like Kid ‘N Play. It’s all so cloying and irritating, but Oxenbould is just charming enough that it’s easy to get past and just accept as a quirk.
As annoying as it may be.
DeJonge’s character fares a lot better as Rebecca, although she has a bit less of a personality to work with, other than that she wants to be a director one day (hence the reason for filming this whole trip in the first place). Hahn doesn’t show up quite enough to make me happy she was involved to begin with, but I was able to get past all of this once McRobbie and Dunagan came on the screen and took this movie by-storm. Though both of them are just supposed to be “weird” and “creepy” and hardly anything else, there’s a certain bit of humanity within them that makes us think that quite possibly, these older-peeps are just old and that explains why they act so strangely. We know it’s not, but there’s the silver-lining that that’s reasoning, which makes the movie more compelling to sit by.
And oh yeah, there is a twist here in the Visit, but it’s not the kind that Shyamalan has, sadly, made a career with. The movie doesn’t depend on it and isn’t used a crutch; it’s just a neat piece of narrative story-telling that makes the movie a bit more tense. Something that all twists should do, but has become running-gag for Shyamalan’s career.
Let’s hope this takes him out of the gutter and back onto the main streets.
Consensus: With a simple premise and approach, the Visit is a slight return-to-form for M. Night Shyamalan that still shows there’s plenty of room for improvement, but is also a reminder as to why he was such a hot-button director so early in his career.
6.5 / 10