Is “The Visit” worth a visit to the multiplex? Find out in this review!

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the visit featured image

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GRANDMA’S RULES

  1. Have a great time.
  2. Eat as much as you want.
  3. Don’t ever leave your room after 9:30 pm.
  4. Don’t use the bathroom from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. It’s reserved for the squirrels.
  5. Breakfast is served at 9:00 am. Justice is served at lunch.
  6. Use indoor voices. Speak loud enough so anyone outside can hear us indoors.
  7. Allow the Keurig at least fifteen minutes to preheat.
  8. Put cans in the blue recycling bin and plastics in the green one.
  9. NEVER throw out Kroger coupons!
  10. Say grace and sing your favorite “We Didn’t Start The Fire” verse before dinner.
  11. At least ten minutes of dinner conversation must be reserved for debating whether Joel or Mike was the better Mystery Science Theater 3000 host.
  12. Keep hands away from the fireplace. Use your feet to put it out.
  13. No one, and I mean no one, comes into our house and pushes us around.
  14. Politely inform Boy Scouts that we do not take solicitations. If they persist, take the BB gun, aim it through the doggy door and shoot their leader in the groin a la Home Alone.
  15. Our dog is named “Stay.” If he licks you, that means he likes you. If he scratches the carpet, that means he wants to go outside. If he hangs his tongue out, that means he’s thirsty. If he bites you, that means he’s hungry. If he bites a limb off, that means you’re tasty.
  16. You want water, you better dunk your hear in the horse trough out there. In here, we pour whiskey.
  17. Don’t touch anything in the china cabinet. You know, on second thought, I’m not using it anyway. Go ahead and touch them all. Play frisbee and break them for all I care. Why are they called china anyway? Is it because I forgot I owned them an hour after buying them?
  18. Suggested Battleship strategy: Let the Wookiee win.
  19. Do not question Bill O’Reilly.
  20. Build snow forts at a minimum of six feet for the best chance at thwarting Indian invaders.
  21. Delete the browser history BEFORE using Grandpa’s computer.
  22. Garbage duty determined by who fails to catch the spear of destiny.
  23. Anime is not real animation, okay? I’m sorry, but it just isn’t.
  24. The closet in the master bedroom does not lead to Narnia. It’s just an ordinary closet with lions.
  25. NO GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS!
  26. Leave your shoes and your brain at the door.
  27. Players: 4. Scenario: Normal. Level: Temple. Game Length: First to 10 points. Weapons: Proximity Mines. Auto Aim: ON
  28. Always aim for the head.
  29. House map rentals are due back by midnight the next day.
  30. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200.
  31. Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!

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The Visit

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Visiting the grandparents is one of the footnotes from childhood that I miss most. It also played a part in bringing this column series to fruition. When my sister and I ran out of new toys and board games to occupy our summer weekends, and if my grandmother needed a break from household maintenance at the same time, we would sometimes all walk together to the local independent second-run movie theater to watch golden age classics like Inspector Gadget, Anaconda and The Odd Couple Part II on their ideal big screen format. Though the movies themselves came and went from memory, the experience laid rest into permanent sentimentality. Having an NBA Jam arcade cabinet in the lobby didn’t hurt either. The two minutes I had with that thing after every movie rivaled Godzilla’s “wow” factor. Charles Barkley FTW!

A lot of the first act from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller “The Visit” brought back memories of pineapple upside-down cakes, the scent of Grandpa’s cigarettes, refrigerators packed with Faygo brand soda, lurking in a dog-fur ridden basement, and ninety degree summer days without AC. The rest…shall we say…is a bag of such dark, weird and twisted scenarios that only a guy like Shyamalan can draft when he’s high on something. I cannot decide if “The Visit” is a good movie or not, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained.

Atypical of his previous work, Shyamalan does not make an onscreen cameo in this film unless you consider the main characters to be a metaphor for his presence. The story is seen through the rough cut footage of a video camera belonging to young aspiring filmmakers Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). All the footage is related to a documentary the kids are shooting about meeting their grandparents (Deanna Dunagan & Peter McRobbie) for the first time. The reason for the grandparents’ disconnect stems from their mother Paula (Kathryn Hahn) having a falling out with them fifteen years ago. Paula is also having trouble keeping the current relationship with her boyfriend to a productive enough level. So she decides to embark on a five-day cruise with him while the kids are left under the care of her parents whom she still trusts despite their differences.

The kids’ stay starts out well enough. Becca impresses the grandparents with her cinematography and interviewing skills while Tyler works to hone his dreams for a professional rap career. But as the visit progresses, the kids notice that something seems “off” about their hosts. Random noises occur in the middle of the night. Grandpa often forgets what year it is. Grandma has unpredictable mood swings. Neighbors are seen stepping in but not stepping out. At first a lot is explained away by the fact that elderly folks can behave awkwardly at their age. But soon nothing seems explainable. Is something going on that the hosts are trying to hide? Are the kids in danger? Will Tyler be appearing in “Straight Outta Compton 2?” The answers may cause you to say “What in the blue hell is this?”

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“The Visit” was hyped to be a return to Shyamalan’s roots as a horror/thriller director: the zone that brought him household name fame with “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.” The reality is that it’s actually another bold project from an artist who never shows fear of standing out from the rest even if the public isn’t pleased with the outcome. Shyamalan’s films have always included humor with varying degrees of subtlety; a lot of it incorrectly criticized as unintentional. For this one, Shyamalan drops the subtlety and goes all out deliberate with the laughs. To control his immature behavior, Tyler substitutes pop star names in place of expletives. (Something I’ve been doing at work lately too both for the sake of comedy and to prevent offending customers.) This recurring gag has the power to instantly change the mood of a scene from squirming in your seat looking like a pretzel to smiling glances to the person in the adjacent seat. Horror purists might find it frustrating, but I found it fun. The movie also plays with the idea that subjects tend to behave differently when they’re aware a camera is on them. Some of the passersby try to impress the kids with their Shakespearean acting skills that they clearly hadn’t developed since grade school. And some of the story’s bigger twists are so gross and/or outrageous that my jaw was open from the sheer insanity of it all. I was more impressed by Shyamalan’s eagerness to put all of his ideas to use than the ideas themselves, which I guess is the movie’s downfall if I had to pick one.

Shyamalan also has a lot of fun working the found footage format: another style new to his repertoire. Camera shots are often placed in a space where dangers can pop out from any corner. As the kids rely on their camera for detective work, the grandparents’ habits are captured in unique ways such as them starting out unaware of another person’s presence. Let it be said too that there’s something extra unsettling about a shaky shot of someone or something crawling towards the foreground. The creativity makes up for the film’s cheaper moments (characters entering the frame out of nowhere reminiscent of those jump scare games your asshole friend emails to you.)

Alfred Hitchcock’s influence on Shyamalan’s trademarks are not limited to gimmicks here. In spite of his low reputation among critics, Shyamalan understands the basic concept of suspense better than most American directors working today. Tension isn’t created by what’s in the frame. It’s created by the viewer’s mind. There’s a recurring moment where the grandmother asks Becca to help her clean the large kitchen oven. (Hansel and Gretel, anyone?) Becca is reluctant for the obvious reason and for the reason that she has reason to question her host’s sanity. She leans in only a tad at first, then a little more through coaxing, and then she’s completely vulnerable to that little push that we are meant to fear. Nothing happens in these sequences and nothing needs to happen. The anxiety from what we’ve seen before fused with the universally inherent fear creates a memorable scene.

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“The Visit” ends a little too conveniently for something as twisted as it was constructed to be. Along with the more bizarre happenings, the divisive found-footage format, shocking moments for their own sake, a single glaring plot hole, and the perhaps too-perfect performances by the young leads, I’m hesitating to recommend this movie. I can’t even go by the previously safe “If you like Shyamalan, you’ll like this” mantra because there’s as much freshness as there is familiarity. I had a good time for maybe a mix of right and wrong reasons. My wagered guess is that the overall perception of this film will be indicated by whether there’s a positive or negative reaction to the end credit sequence, because it’s at the highest level of awkwardness “The Visit” wants its viewers to be prepared for. Word!

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Score Board

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Premise: 7 (out of 10)

Script: 6 (out of 10)

Characters: 8 (out of 10)

Atmosphere: 9 (out of 10)

Scares: 7 (out of 10)

Pairs of blood-stained underwear: 36

Skype Conversations: 5

Becca 10 years from now: Columbia University School of the Arts

Tyler 10 years from now: Open Mic night at the Wellington Pub

YAHTZEE!: 25 points

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Overall: 6 (out of 10)

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The Visit poster

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