'The Visit': Film review

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'The Visit': Film review

Post by onlyguy on Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:42 pm

A family get-together starts out strange
and quickly enters nightmare territory in
The Visit, a horror-thriller that turns
soiled adult diapers into a motif. Told
from a camera-equipped kids'-eye view,
M. Night Shyamalan's latest is well cast and strong on setting. But the dull
thudding that resounds isn't part of its
effective aural design; it's the ungainly
landing of nearly every shock and joke. Notwithstanding the evidence of
Shyamalan's features since the pitch-
perfect Sixth Sense, hope endures
among fans that lightning will strike
twice. In the wake of bloated recent
outings After Earth and The Last Airbender, that hope takes on a
particular fervency with this modestly
scaled return to straight-up genre fare.
That anticipation will drive theatrical
business for the feature, as will the lure
of sheer horror fun, at least until word- of-mouth stems the box-office tide. Early in the film, there's a wonderful
moment when a mom's exuberant
clowning shifts to tears. Played by the
terrific Kathryn Hahn, she's a divorced
woman seeing her kids off at the train
station. From that point on, the energy, warmth and nuance of her performance
is reduced to intermittent Skype
sessions — a crucial element to the story
but nonetheless a letdown for the
viewer. To give Mom time alone with her
boyfriend, teenage Becca (Olivia
DeJonge) and tween Tyler (Ed
Oxenbould), a serious germophobe and
aspiring rapper, have volunteered for a
weeklong stay at the Pennsylvania farm of their grandparents. It's an especially
generous offer given that they've never
before met Nana and Pop Pop (Deanna
Dunagan and Peter McRobbie). But there's more to it than generosity;
the camera-wielding siblings, budding
auteur Becca in particular, sense an
opportunity to make a documentary that
uncovers the generational rift between
their grandparents and their mother, who left the farm as a teenager under
circumstances she refuses to discuss. The grands prove no more forthcoming
on the subject, but that's the least of the
kids' worries as they're confronted with
Nana's nocturnal rages, usually
unclothed, and Pop Pop's unsavory
stockpile in the shed. Determined not to be one of those people who fear the
elderly "for no reason," Becca chooses to
ignore the ample reasons before her.
While Tyler goes eagerly sniffing for
trouble, she accepts the rational
explanations Nana and Pop Pop give her for their increasingly bizarre and
unsettling behavior. Through it all, she and her brother shoot
their documentary. Cinematographer
Maryse Alberti captures the sense of a
nonstop work in progress, seen through
the lenses of the kids' video cameras
and laptop, with reality-style interviews, off-center framing and p.o.v. night
footage a la Blair Witch. Shyamalan
uses the various devices to tiring effect
and without conjuring the requisite deep
chills. Playing off the winking self-
consciousness of the film-within-a-film,
there's a jokey aspect to the feints and
shock cuts. The writer-director's would-
be sendup of down-home country
comfort tries to have fun with fairy-tale terrors. The result is almost always
mechanical rather than exciting or funny,
despite the actors' layered performances
— the self-aware kids, Dunagan's
otherworldly weirdness and McRobbie's
unnerving deadpan. The rural winter backdrop works as a
fitting contrast to Mom's Skype
dispatches from her sunny cruise-ship
vacation. Within what's essentially a
single setting, Shyamalan and Alberti
keep things visually diverse but cohesive, while Naaman Marshall's
clean farmhouse interiors avoid the
common trap of overdesign. A Jungian therapist might have a field
day with the story's plunge into the
nigredo, the aspect of alchemy that
involves putrefaction and decomposition
(those diapers!). But the unpleasantly
memorable moments of the movie's dark mix hardly compensate for the dull
sludge surrounding it. Attempts to liven
things up with Oxenbould's raps don't do
the trick either. And given the lack of
gripping storytelling, the big twist arrives
as more of a "hmmm" moment than a ground-shaking thrill. The movie isn't without an emotional
core, though: It's Hahn's mostly absent
character, and although she's called
upon to deliver the heavy-handed moral
of the story, she manages to make every
moment she's onscreen ring true. In one of the few gags that connects in
this missed opportunity of a film, Tyler
utters the names of female singers
rather than cursing when he's upset or
disappointed. To borrow that conceit, a
fair response to The Visit might be "Cher, Rihanna, Dolly Parton."

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