Friday, September 11, 2015

A Reel Review: THE VISIT

When M. Night Shyamalan isn’t making dumb decisions or taking a job as a big-nuts studio stooge, there is no question about his ability to craft a movie. His talent for writing interesting characters, creating tension, and building atmosphere and mystique are nearly un-matched in today’s current crop of directors.When he’s doing what he does best, he is the best…and his newest flick, THE VISIT, has all of that in full view, along with something new. 

A brother and sister, Tyler and Becca (Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge) are sent to their grandparents by their mom (Kathryn Hahn) for a week-long visit. Once some strange things begin happening with grandpa (called Pop Pop, played by Peter McRobbie), and grandma (called Nana, played by Deanna Dunagan), they find their chances to return home become very slim. 

Everyone loves a trip to the grandparents’ house, and in the early goings of THE VISIT, M. Night fully captures those great heartwarming feelings of family. It gives his film a moral center and strong characters with a past to latch onto, and that carries through the rest of the story very well. Once the weird stuff starts happening and the two kids are put into some sort of terror, M. Night’s talent for generating scares kicks into high gear. The scares are not cheap as they are well-earned thanks to his patient touch. There is a genuine creep-factor going on thanks in part to the surroundings feeling so familiar and welcoming with something unexplained going on. M. Night also proves his reputation as being a true master at not what is in the camera frame, but out of it; as what we don’t see is certainly more frightening than what we can’t. As a horror film, THE VISIT shines. 

Where THE VISIT loses its glow is with the presentation. Done in the spirit of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, M. Night for the first time uses the first-person, found-footage technique. The two kids are videotaping constantly throughout their adventure in the hopes of making a documentary about their family, and this is how we see the film. The narrative bounces back-and-forth from two cameras, and while it works for the most part (aside from some goddamn shaky-cam looking like one of those videos where an idiot forgets to stop recording and walks around forever), after a while it gets tiresome. There are a lot of convenient things that happen in THE VISIT to justify the cameras rolling all the time, and even more convenient things to justify the situation the kids are in. M. Night asks his audience to buy into a lot, and just how much they are willing to buy into may determine the enjoyment of the film. 

The twist, and yes there is a twist, is a good one, although some may have it figured out way early, but even if it is, the eventual execution is well-done and still effective with a great chill-down-your-spine factor. The big reveal comes early and not at the very end, which is a nice touch as it puts the characters into even more of a pickle. It’s a sign of a patient filmmaker. 

Acting is superb. Both young actors, Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge, get the most work and effectively display a lot of emotions. Kathryn Hahn is also great as a loving mom…and Nana and Pop Pop are frightengly handled well by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie. Both of them put some great work and are a horrific joy to watch. 

When the smoke clears it’s easy to leave THE VISIT with a smile, as M. Night does offer a pretty good time. It works best when just enjoying the ride, even though the handi-cam approach makes it feel like less of an actual film and more of an experiment. It's still the best work M. Night has done in over a decade as he does show off the things that he does best.  It's just too bad he didn’t stick with more of that and less with tinkering with new toys.  


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