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The Visit •

The_Visit_(2015_film)_posterStarring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Comedy/Horror, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: September 11, 2015


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it’s time to visit The Visit.

In which we’re reminded of something we’ve known since childhood: old people are scary. Let’s recap.

We meet a woman named Paula (Kathryn Hahn) and her two children, a 13-year-old son named Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) and his older sister Becca (Olivia DeJonge). Becca is estranged from her parents, and consequently Tyler and Becca have never met their grandparents, who live far away in Pennsylvania.

Tyler and Becca’s grandparents have finally gotten in touch with Paula and have requested to have the grandchildren come stay with them for a week. Paula is unsure at first, but gives in to the request when the children point out that she’s not had a vacation since… forever. So the children get on a train and meet their grandparents for the first time.

Things are going pretty well. The children settle into their new abode and Grandpa comes into the bedroom and says that it’s best if they all go to bed at 9:30. After all, these folks are old and accustomed to an early bedtime. However, things get creepy when Becca hears strange noises. She opens the bedroom door only to see her grandmother walking aimlessly around downstairs and vomiting on the floor. The next day Grandpa explains Gramma has “Sundown Syndrome” which makes her kind of crazy after the sun goes down. And we’re off…

The Visit is the scary movie we’ve seen a million times before. There is the predictable set-up, where a family is happily excited about entering into a new situation. We encounter the scary entities (in this case the grandparents), and for some reason these scary entities decide to become scary gradually. There are plenty of false alarm scares. We have victims (in this case two kids) who don’t leave the house when anyone in their right minds, even kids, would leave in a heartbeat. We have a warning early in the story not to go somewhere (in this case, a basement). Yet somehow our victims go there anyway.

So there’s nothing original here. We even have the derivative use of a handheld cam, along with several absurd situations where our victims are holding the cam long after it makes any sense to do so. The absurdity is heightened by one of the victims taking a poopy diaper in the face. Yes, you read that correctly. No, this isn’t the Three Stooges, but Moe would have been proud to have delivered that poopy-diaper-facial.

You’re right about that Scott. The good thing about this movie is that the horror is played up for laughs. It’s not as smart as, say, 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods but it comes close. The movie seems to know that it’s a ridiculous horror movie so it has our heroes do crazy things. Tyler is a budding young rap star, or so he thinks. He’s obsessed with getting girls to like him so he makes up rap lyrics about how all the girls his age are a foot taller than him, etc…

Becca is a wanna-be movie director, so it makes sense that she’d want to videotape everything and gives her brother a camera too – so he can videotape everything. Each day ends with Becca reviewing and editing her self-shot videos into a documentary about her mother and grandparents.

This “found footage” approach has been used in horror films before. It was most notably used in The Blair Witch Project (1999) and in J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield (2008). Director M. Night Shyamalan spoofs the technique by having the actors do things no one in their right minds would do. Like pointing the camera behind them as they run. Or having the grandmother find a hidden camera, only to drop it in just the right place so the audience can witness her trying to open a door with a butcher’s knife. Since it looks like a spoof, we’re all happy to play along.

Speaking of Shyamalan, The Visit even features the typical Shyamalan surprise-ending, all predicated on the confluence of many unlikely events, namely, that the kids have never seen photos of their grandparents, that mom never sees the grandparents during their Skype chats, that visitors always come over when no one is home, etc. Now that I think about it, that poopy diaper to the face was the highlight of the movie.

There is no hero transformation in this movie that I could detect, with the possible exception that maybe the two kids are scarred for life and will need decades of therapy. For this movie to work, the two trapped kids have to experience something interesting, mystical, or transformative to escape their horrid situation. Alas, the resolution is not even remotely interesting. Shyamalan arranges for the girl to stab grandma and the boy to hit grandpa with the refrigerator door. It’s a pedestrian ending to a pedestrian movie.

I think we have this problem with extreme genre films, Scott. When you look at slapstick comedy (which The Visit comes close to) you realize that story is secondary to yucks. Likewise with horror movies. What’s important is the fright factor. People don’t go to these films to be uplifted or to learn something deep – they go for the feelings of laughter and fright.

And I’m OK with that. I think you overlook the fact that Tyler has always felt his dad left home because he froze during a tackle in a pee-wee football game. This has left him with guilt and germaphobia. Well, the diaper in the face fixed the germaphobia and the climactic scene where he saves his sister by tackling Grandpa shows his growth as well. It’s not fantastic growth, but I think it counts.

The secondary characters of the grandparents were interesting as they evolved from being kindly mentors into dark mentors and even “pure evil” villains in the end. The mother is in the prologue and epilogue and otherwise has no purpose in the film – other than to be oblivious to the danger she’s put her children into. And finally, the two mental hospital employees who check in on the kids are not really germane at all.

The Visit is not worth a visit to the theater, nor is it worth a visit to Netflix, unless of course you love seeing incontinent old people terrorizing young children. I found The Visit to be humorless, predictable, and uninteresting. The two child actors, however, did a very nice job with mundane material, and so kudos to Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge for making the most of their poopy situation. I give The Visit a grand total of 1 Reel out of 5.

I didn’t detect much of a hero’s journey here at all, although I will grant you that the two kids were thrown into a dangerous unfamiliar world. But that’s about the only element of the classic hero quest that I see here. There’s no mentor figure or transformation, although you’re right, Greg, that the dirty diaper was the answer to the boy’s fecal-phobia. I’ll be generous and award our buddy heroes 2 Heroes out of 5.

As you point out, Greg, there aren’t many secondary characters. The two deranged grandparents do a decent job of creeping us out, and the kids’ mom does a serviceable job in her role. The supporting characters get a whopping 2 rating points out of 5.

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I found The Visit to be a light-hearted jab at the horror genre. Shyamalan did a good job of giving the audience exactly what it wanted: something simple with a predictable twist. He used his many talents to produce a comedic horror film without getting lost in his own mythos. It’s not a great horror film, and not a great comedy. I give it just 1 Reel out of 5.

The protagonists of the story comprise a type of buddy hero pair that we haven’t examined until now: that of siblings. They represent a pretty simplified view of siblings who love each other but also kind of get on each others nerves. We haven’t seen the likes of this since The Brady Bunch. Unlike you, Scott, I saw some transformation for our heroes. But I have to admit, it looked like it was thrown in at the last moment. I give them just 2 Heroes out of 5.

As for our secondary characters: the mother is a prop to start the whole thing off and to bring us home again at the end. She has no real purpose in the story otherwise. The two grandparents have in interesting trajectory that starts out benign and grows into sinister. I give them all just 2 out of 5 Cast points.

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  1. Dan O. says:

    Good review. It’s a bit silly, but fun enough of a watch.

  2. Thanks, Dan. Keep up the good work!

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