Monday, September 14, 2015

[Review] The Visit

Everyone is well aware about the mystery of director M. Night Shyamalan and his devolving track record. The topic has been frequently discussed, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it. Did he just strike gold and peak early? Is he trolling? Did the real one get abducted by aliens? Anyway, now we have The Visit--his spin on found-footage horror. It isn't a return to form, nor is it a complete disaster. While there are a lot of things wrong with the film, it's a decently satisfying horror entry, and his best effort in a long time.

A young, aspiring filmmaker (this explains why the whole stay is recorded) named Rebecca (Olivia (DeJonge) and her little brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould, who is painfully annoying at first, but that goes away once he stops attempting to rap) go and stay at their Grandma (Deanna Dunagan) and Grandpa's (Peter McRobbie) farmhouse for a few days. The grandparents have bouts with dementia and bowel disorders, and are apparently diagnosed with "sundown syndrome". So basically--they're a little strange during the day, but significantly stranger at night. Rebecca and Tyler contemplate whether it's just "old people being old people", or if something else is going on.

Unfortunately, Shyamalan doesn't fully avoid some of the pitfalls of the found-footage format. The story starts pretty slow, and there is the usual monkeying around with the camera. At least most of the shots are clear, instead of the fuzzy static look, but there is some shaky cam here that is sort of obnoxious. It's difficult not to think that the film probably would've been fine without the found-footage angle, but it isn't a total miscalculation because we do get some ominous POV shots. This makes The Visit a fairly fitting companion piece to this year's Creep.

For a while, the film occupies a space of average, run-of-the-mill horror, alternating between mundane day scenes and eerie night scenes that deliver incremental creeps--like the old people doing really weird things (it must be noted that the two performers playing these roles are absolutely terrific). And of course, it wouldn't be proper without a few jump scares. In an odd choice, the film seems to cut too soon from some of the more intense moments, so it misses out on extra chances for some scare mileage. In turn, you'll probably find yourself getting antsy during the daytime scenes and just anticipate the nighttime scenes.

As expected, there is a twist here. As usual, I won't spoil it. But I will say I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't anything too elaborate to the point of being ridiculous, eye-rolling, or scoff-worthy. In fact, its simplicity might catch you off-guard if you were over-thinking things. So the twist works, and most importantly, it boosts the fright factor as the story launches into a terrifying climactic sequence that captures the dreadful feeling of being trapped and helpless. The script attempts to tack on some sentiment, but it's unnecessary here, especially because it seems phoned in.

Go into The Visit with an open mind. Endure the low points, and see how you come away after the end. If Shyamalan makes you feel a bit jumpy as you walk past an unsuspecting old person after you leave the theater, he's probably done something right.


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