Don’t Get Old, Get Evil.
Two young children visit their grandparents for the first time. And smell death. Uh, wait – that’s pretty normal. Two children visit their grandparents for the first time – and find soiled adult diapers! … Well, uh, still pretty normal. Two children visit their grandparents for the first time. And see vomiting and dementia. Still nothing unusual. Is this a horror movie or just my last visit to Nana and Grampa’s place?
M. Night Shyamalan caves to fad and presents his latest thriller, THE VISIT, as a hand-held indie home video. And all this time I thought he was ahead of the curve… Though critics accuse Night of being surrounded by yes-men and ball-lickers, I believe it is the other way ‘round: his spate of unsuccessful movies (and let’s get this straight, his actual badly-made movies start with THE HAPPENING, not before) is due to listening to the ideas and advice of lesser men. Due to becoming a punchline in the industry, having lost his goodwill with the fickle public, it’s as if Night feels he has to listen to these insiders if he ever wants to have another box office success. But they’re wrong. And they’re making him all wrong.
Hand-held is the retarded cousin of found footage. Both were cool novelty experiments once. Once. Back when we were ignorant enough to believe – even for a fraction of a second – that THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was real. But now any feature film presented in the hand-held or found footage format raises way too many meta questions that detract from our enjoyment of the film.
For example, in THE VISIT, the young girl who is making a documentary of her visit to her grandparents insists on shooting everything, from the packing, to the train journey, to the first meeting, etc. yet in the ride to the train station, the only shot we see is a view of mom’s back seat and her brother’s arm, from a camera that is obviously left on accidentally by the way brother sees it and says, “Oh,” before turning it off. Now I ask: why didn’t the girl think to film this car ride from the passenger seat? She has obviously cut this film together (and that’s another issue we’ll deal with) yet the only car footage is this “accidental” angle?
I’ve fallen out of the movie already. This kind of carelessness continues, as it does in any “hand-held” film. During the course of the film, there are outdoor establishing shots of evening, the moon through trees, etc. Are we meant to believe that during the extremely stressful events of the visit, the girl actually went outside and shot this B-roll? When people are running blindly in fear, the camera can always see the surroundings, and we always have a view of their faces – but have you ever tried to even walk slowly with a vidcam and seen the visual porridge it creates?
See what I’m talking about now? Not the movie, the story, or the performances, not the interesting buildup of tension – the goddam hand-held camera. I – HATE – HAND-HELD MOVIES. STOP MAKING THEM. Night, there will come a film where you are truly back. This is not that film…
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are sent by Mom (Kathryn Hahn) to visit her parents on an isolated farm, while Mom goes on a cruise with her boyfriend. What we see in this film is supposedly Becca’s footage of that trip that she cut together. Here’s the problem with this arrogance: Why did Becca edit the week-long visit in linear time? So many disturbing things happen to the kids over the course of their stay that the only reason anyone would edit the movie in this fashion is to produce a “horror movie.” But this video is not a horror movie project – it is meant to be Becca’s chronicle of meeting her long-lost grandparents and trying to reconcile them with their estranged daughter, Becca’s mother. In the final edit, after her and her brother’s ordeal, Becca’s video project should have ended up as something trying to come to grips with the terrifying visit; instead, it skews to “horror movie.”
The concept unravels if you examine it with the slightest bit of logic or rationality.
Speaking of which, Tyler is meant to be germaphobic. Then why does he crawl around under the house playing hide-n-seek?
It’s not like Night is a slouch when it comes to thrillers. His directorial finesse is fully on display in the little things that make up his great films, like THE SIXTH SENSE (Malcolm’s subtle interaction with his world), SIGNS (the camera pan around the room, signifying the change of seasons), THE VILLAGE (the discovery of Lucius’s body), etc. So Night doesn’t have to “find a style.” He has actually abandoned his meticulous style in favor of pandering to idiot internet trolls.
The grandparents are suitably creepy. Woody Allen regular Peter McRobbie as Pop Pop, and Deanna Dunagan as Nana, who is not scared to get her gear off for disturbing old-person nakedness.
Kathryn Hahn has one amazing scene when she’s seeing the kids off in the train: we see her outside the carriage; her face changes from waving goodbye in fun, to sudden sadness in the last second – it’s a brilliant moment, captured perfectly. Young Ed Oxenbould is actually a great wigga rapper! He’s got the sway down, the rhythms and – what can I say? – the blackness; a regular Eminem. The only player a little stiff is DeJonge as Becca. “We’re visiting our grandparents. We don’t know their temperament or their proclivities.”
Show me a teen girl that talks this way and I’ll show you an actress who has rehearsed her lines too much. Tyler immediately chimes in, “We don’t even know what they like!” A gag which is lost on the Young Adult demographic that the movie is supposedly aimed at – because that demo doesn’t know ‘proclivities’ means the same thing.
THE VISIT does create some scares and a general feeling of uneasiness, all tempered due to that godforsaken hand-held gimmick. Even the themes of Becca and Tyler coming to terms with their father’s abandonment (like Becca not looking into mirrors, and in the last scene, combing her hair in the mirror) are lost amidst this maddening meta contrivance. Every time the tension mounts, I ask myself: Why should it? Becca should be cutting this footage into a case study of her grandparents, not into a horror movie she’s debuting at Cannes. And for every disturbing scene of Nana crawling on all fours under the house, there are the inauthentic scenes of these common farm people acting like professionals around a camera. (Real people, when confronted with a vidcam, are always looking into it. These characters never look into it. You know who is trained not to look into the camera? Actors.)
Politely excuse yourself and cut your visit short.