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The Visit

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 2.20.57 PM

I’ve avoided M. Night Shyamalan’s movies for the last couple of years — since the disaster that was “Lady in the Water,” though really that was the last straw.  But I watched the Shyamalan produced “Wayward Pines” miniseries this spring, because I know Blake Crouch (he’s a Durango resident) and it’s based on books he wrote. He even wrote a few episodes. And you know what, it was pretty good.  Shyamalan didn’t ruin it. So, with some fear and trepidation, I decided to give M. Night’s latest movie, “The Visit,” a chance. I’m glad I did.

Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge play siblings going to visit their grandparents for the first time. I’ve never seen either of them before; DeJonge is reminiscent of Abigail Breslin.  One or both of them are on the screen for 99% of the movie. They have great chemistry together; they feel like kids who have been each other’s best friend for most of their lives. Their performances (and the script) toe the line between cute and cloying; there are plenty of bits (especially Oxenbould’s rapping) that it’s kind of amazing aren’t annoying.

I think their performances are helped by the tone of the movie, which was a true surprise. Shyamalan’s films, for better or worse, always have felt tightly controlled, but this one doesn’t.  It’s goofy, loose and shambling.  As a director, he seems game to follow his two main characters wherever they lead. This is supposed to be a horror flick, and the elements of horror are there, but it’s much funnier, and even goofier, than horror is generally allowed to be.  And that makes it a better movie.

“The Visit” is shot found-footage style, but thankfully Shyamalan doesn’t feel the need to stick very close to that particular gimmick.  DeJonge is supposed to be recording their trip for a school project, and she clearly knows more about film than a lot of film school students.  But Shyamalan cuts between different cameras, jump cuts, and generally ignores the premise whenever it doesn’t suit him. A few years ago I would have been annoyed by these short cuts, but I’m so done with found footage flicks – this gimmick was completely played out five years ago — that I was actually relieved to see him cheat every now and then. We don’t need any more found footage flicks, but if we have to endure them, let them be more like “The Visit.”

Something is up with the grandparents (Deanna Duggan and Peter McRobbie, in fairly nondescript performances) but of course, it’s not clear until the third act reveal just what it is. Grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and sundowns pretty hard. They’re not allowed out of their room after 9:30, because she’s unpredictable. Grandfather is incontinent and suffers from mild dementia; he keeps getting dressed for a costume party that happened 50 years ago. It doesn’t seem like either of should really be in a home, but it is a good thing that neighbors come by regularly to check on them. “The Visit” gets a lot of mileage of the general problems that come with aging, and how weird and creepy that can be to kids — as well as the oddness of sending your kids off to spend a week with grandparents they barely know.  This is where “The Visit” is the best; when it’s just mining that uncertainty, as the kids try to figure out what passes for normal in their grandparents’ house.

There’s also a subplot about family reconciliation – the kids’ mother left home in a bad way, to marry a man her parents didn’t approve of, who then left her when the kids were in grade school.  DeJonge is hoping she can use her camera to fix the relationship between her mom and grandparents, a relationship she barely understands.  This doesn’t really go anywhere, but it opens up some opportunities for the kids to deal with their emotions about their dad leave, and those scenes feel much more charged and interesting.

But I guess making a horror flick about Alzheimer’s and dementia would be anticlimactic, not to mention insulting to those who suffer from these ailments. So there’s a third act reveal, and a series of scary/gross scenes that end in a last-minute rescue, just the way they’re supposed to. All of this is handled well enough to be entertaining, though I definitely found the middle act more interesting than the climax.

Some of the people in the movie theater with me seemed disappointed that “The Visit” wasn’t scarier, and I can understand that.  There are a handful of jump scares scattered throughout, but even as it amps up, it’s more into gross-out horror than real scares.  And good horror is all about tone — ominous, tense, unnerving — and “The Visit” is none of those things.  It’s goofy. I liked it, but if you’re looking for the next “Insidious,” this isn’t it.  (It’s more like the next “Evil Dead.”  In fact, it’s more like “Evil Dead” than that terrible remake of “Evil Dead” from a few years ago.)

This movie and the one I reviewed a few weeks ago, “The Visit,” make me feel optimistic about Hollywood. They’re not great movies — neither are terribly ambitious or important — but they both are well-made. I enjoyed them, and felt like I had seen something unique by the time the credits rolled – they have personality. They both veer away from the formula of typical Hollywood wide release flicks, but they both played here in Durango – meaning they are wide release flicks. I love to see movies like these get made – small, interesting flicks that show the fingerprints of their maker but don’t feel “auteur.”  This is good cinema.

It’s also fun to see M. Night Shyamalan make a good movie again.  I’m going to go ahead and give the credit to Blake Crouch. Sometimes working with the right collaborator will break you out of a slump, and maybe that’s what happened.  It’s as good a theory as any other, don’t you think?


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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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