Saturday, February 20, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Visit

The Visit
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
This is a found footage thriller or horror film that combines a hidden intelligence with plenty of references to classic Western fairy tales. And of course as it is a Shyamalan film there is going to be a very big twist that takes the story somewhere different. As you know that going into the film it reduces the shock just a bit but nonetheless the film still manages to be interesting and mildly surprising. I guessed wrong on a few surprises. 
Perhaps I am just dumb but at the very least I was entertained by some of the surprises. Smarter or more discerning viewers may think that some of the plot twists are too predictable. So as always YMMV. If you are fortunate enough that some or all of your grandparents are still alive and cogent then you should take every opportunity remaining to talk to them and learn from them. They may have insights into who your parents are and indeed into who you are. And if nothing else it can be humorous to watch parents who demand strict deference/obedience from you give a modified form of this deference to their own parents. Grandparents are also usually great ones for spoiling their grandkids and passing down family knowledge and heirlooms from days long past. 

With all of this in mind fifteen year old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her thirteen year old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) decide that the time has come to visit their maternal grandparents. Their divorced mother (Kathryn Hahn) has long been estranged from her parents because of her marriage to Becca's and Tyler's father. But she won't give any details about what happened (besides the marriage) to cause her and her parents to refuse to speak or visit with each other for over a decade. That's her business. She's not the sort of parent to share painful private things with her kids, thank you very much.

Now that her mother is happily dating again, Becca, a budding young filmmaker, thinks that it would be great to visit her grandparents, find out some family secrets, make a documentary about her family and hopefully arrange a reconciliation. Tyler, a would be rapper with serious OCD issues arising from his parents' divorce, doesn't mind tagging along with big sis on this visit. 
So the dynamic duo of siblings go over the river and through the woods to finally meet their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie). The grandparents are delighted to at long last see their beloved grandchildren. And this feeling is shared by Becca and Tyler. At first anyway. When they reach the farmhouse the kids learn they will need to share a room. Nana is not crazy about being on camera and seems to regard her granddaughter with something approaching suspicion. Pop-Pop is very forgetful and prone to mumbling to himself. He tells the children that he and his wife like to turn in early so he would greatly appreciate it if Becca and Tyler would stay in their room after 9:30 PM. Pop-Pop is serious about this. 

When the siblings talk to their mother via Skype she assures them that old people like her parents have all sorts of physical and mental frailties. So it's no biggie. And their mother would love to chat more but she's on a cruise with her new younger boyfriend. She has certain emotional and physical needs of her own which must be met.
So she's gotta go. So Becca and Tyler are on their own for the week that they're staying with Nana and Pop-Pop. Becca and Tyler gradually decide that they are less interested in finding out about their mother's disagreements with her parents and more interested in learning why Nana and Pop-Pop are just so weird. And that's just about enough plot description I think.

This movie does a a good job in slowly ramping up the sense of dread. Little asides that you may not even have noticed turn out to have meaning later on in the narrative. Although it's an ensemble film Dunagan (especially) and McRobbie steal most of the scenes in which they appear. There is a fair amount of comedy between the two oft bickering siblings which may resonate with folks who aren't only children. 
It's hard for a found footage movie to legitimately come up with reasons why certain events would be on film but The Visit manages to get around most of the objections a rational viewer would have on that front. There are all the normal horror film cliches which you have come to know and love (or hate). This was a  PG-13 film which did not have a huge amount of depicted violence. Nevertheless it does have some legitimate scares for the unwary. It mixes a healthy amount of unease with occasionally offbeat humor.
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