Becca and Tyler (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) have never met their grandparents on their mother’s side. Paula (Kathryn Hahn) left home at 19, against her parent’s wishes, when she fell in love with one of her high school teachers and ran off with him. Her last interaction with her parents was ugly and she’s never talked about it nor has she spoken with them. Now divorced from Becca and Tyler’s dad, Paula is in a new relationship. The kids like her boyfriend and want them to be able to spend time together so they ask to visit their grandparents while mom and her boyfriend go on a cruise. Becca, an aspiring filmmaker, wants to video everything on their trip and turn it into a documentary. Arriving via train, Becca and Tyler are met at the station by Nana and Pop Pop (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie). They arrive at their grandparent’s farm house way out in the country with no cell reception. Nana is constantly cooking and cleaning in the kitchen and Pop Pop is doing chores around the farm. Pop Pop explains bedtime is 9:30 p.m. since they are old. He also warns the children they shouldn’t leave their rooms after bedtime. Wanting some more of Nana’s cookies, Becca tries to sneak downstairs to the kitchen an hour after lights out but sees Nana walking around the living room vomiting. Asking about it the next day, Pop Pop tells Becca Nana had a touch of stomach flu. Tyler sees Pop Pop putting something in a storage building away from the house. Investigating, he finds a table filled with soiled adult diapers. Nana explains that Pop Pop has incontinence and puts the diapers in the storage building and burns them in the fields later. The pair also sees Nana wondering around the house after bedtime naked and scratching at the walls. Pop Pop says she has a form of dementia called Sundown Syndrome and that’s why they shouldn’t leave their rooms at night. Becca is satisfied with the explanations but Tyler is suspicious that there’s more going on.
The last film directed by M. Night Shyamalan I saw was “The Last Airbender” in 2010. It took the Nickelodeon cartoon and turned it into a choppy and chatty mess. I had hoped after the disaster that was “The Happening” that Shyamalan would bounce back with his take on a cartoon; but sadly, it was quite the disappointment. I have to say I didn’t hold out much hope “The Visit” would be worth the price of a ticket and my time but fortunately the director that gave us “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” appears to have found his groove again.
“The Visit” is being sold as a horror movie but once you see it, you’ll realize it is almost as comedic as it is scary. Sometimes the humor is generated intentionally like when Ed Oxenbould’s Tyler busts out some freestyle. Watching this cherubic white kid attempt to channel the spirit of Dr. Dre is a hoot. Other times the humor comes from the horror such as when the kids are playing hide and seek under the house and discover Nana is down there with them, crawling around and growling. When they all get outside, Nana giggles and tells them what she’s making for dinner then turns to walk in the house showing her skirt is ripped up the back and half her behind is showing.
Humor is scattered throughout “The Visit” and that’s quite a departure from some of the most recent works of Shyamalan. Both “The Village” and “The Happening” take themselves very seriously. Even “The Last Airbender” was devoid of the lightness and joy that made the cartoon so appealing. Perhaps some knowing winks at the weirdness of what is going on would have helped make those films somewhat more watchable.
The cast of “The Visit” all turn in stellar performances. Both Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould make their characters, written like stereotypical sitcom too-smart-for-their-own-good teenagers, rise above the cuteness of the script and actually show us some interesting people. DeJonge’s super artsy Becca is burying a lot of pain under the façade of her wannabe auteur. A scene where that is teased to the surface by Tyler is heartbreaking to watch as Becca comes to grips with the anger she feels over her father leaving the family. Oxenbould’s Tyler is dealing with some abandonment issues of his own. They present themselves as a germ phobia and his bravado when it comes to girls. Tyler also tells a story about a peewee football game that shines a light on how a child can connect two events and come to a conclusion of they are to blame for being left by a parent. While not as gut wrenching as Becca’s realization, Tyler’s pain is brought into sharper focus with the story. Both these young actors add a level of relatability to what is an otherwise fantastical situation.
While I enjoyed the movie very much there were some aspects of the story I found a little contradictory. It’s time for what I like to call “Giving Too Much Thought to the Story.” First, the grandparents live on a farm in the middle of the country in an area that doesn’t have cellphone service; yet, they apparently spring for broadband internet since the kids converse with their mother over the computer via Skype. There isn’t a desktop or laptop to be seen anywhere in the grandparents’ house but we are told they run a counseling service online. The kids never went to the site since they have no idea what the grandparents look like they are very connected to the internet so it would seem they would have at least checked to see if their grandparents’ pictures were posted. As the situation deteriorates, Becca and Tyler never give voice to stealing their grandparents’ car in an effort to get away. While Becca is supposed to be 15 and wouldn’t have her license yet, there aren’t many 15-year olds that haven’t logged at least a little time behind the wheel. Also, Becca is very smart as she is editing her video on her laptop as she is shooting it. Even with my little experience at video editing, I know it is far simpler to drive a car than to learn most editing software. And that’s been another edition of “Giving Too Much Thought to the Story.”
“The Visit” is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and brief language. There are numerous scares in the movie including naked Nana scratching at the walls and running around the living room vomiting. The discovery of the dirty adult diapers is rather disgusting. A dirty diaper plays a big part in the film’s conclusion. We also briefly see a woman hanging from a tree and two bodies in a garbage pile. There is also a stabbing that is seen in bits and pieces. Foul language is wide scattered and used almost exclusively by Tyler.
Despite my lack of faith in director and script writer M. Night Shyamalan, “The Visit” delivers some quality scares and healthy laughs. It also knows how to mix and match the fright and humor to keep the audience guessing at what they will get next. It’s a winning formula that I hope Shyamalan is able to maintain and refine to put himself back on top. We need more quality scary films that also include some lighter moments just to keep the viewer off balance. This winning combination makes “The Visit” worth the trip.