By: Kevin Jordan
The rules are…there are no rules.
As you can see from the movie poster (and which are verbalized in the previews), The Visit has some ground rules and the third is the one that is the most heavily emphasized. If you are foolish enough to sit through another M. Night Shyamalan movie, know that you can ignore those rules because Shyamalan definitely did. You should also know that Shyamalan has fallen so far from the graces of Hollywood that he is now making found-footage flicks on shoestring budgets ($5 million), which is the nicest way to describe The Visit. The meanest way to describe it is that it is, like one of its props, a pile of shit (seriously, there are two scenes in the movie featuring poop).
(Massive SPOILERS coming, including Shyamalan’s patented twist because you should definitely not waste your time and money to see this movie.)
The premise of the movie is simple – mom (Kathryn Hahn) sends her two teenage children, Rebecca and Tyler (Olivia De Jonge and Ed Oxenbould, respectively) to spend a week with her parents, their grandparents. Something is off with the grandparents, highlighted by grandpa (Peter McRobbie) telling them that bedtime is 9:30 and they aren’t allowed in the basement because it’s moldy, and since this is a horror movie, the questions are (1) what is wrong with the grandparents, (2) how long before we see what’s in the basement, and (3) will the children survive the week? The problem is that in order for the twist to work, there have to be massive plot holes.
To begin with, mom and her parents are not on good terms. In fact, they haven’t spoken in fifteen years. So, it makes perfect sense that she would send her children to stay with people the kids have never met and whom she doesn’t like. And it also makes perfect sense that she wouldn’t even go with the kids, but rather puts them on a train heading for the Pennsylvania countryside. I mean, what teenage children wouldn’t want to hang out with two really old strangers in the middle of nowhere for a week and not even have their only parent facilitate the introduction? But it’s all okay because Rebecca is going to make a documentary in the hopes of helping the adults reconcile and Tyler is going to be there too. And don’t worry about the kids being shy around two total strangers – when they meet, the kids immediately refer to them as Nana and Pop-Pop (yes, this actually happened).
(Note: I refuse to use those names for the grandparents throughout my review because it was arguably the worst thing in a screenplay that also involved poopy diapers and vomiting.)
For the first day, everything seems normal. Grandma (Deanna Dunagan) makes food, the kids get settled in, and when it’s time for bed, grandpa tells the kids that bedtime is 9:30 because he and grandma are old. Seriously, that’s what he says. No ominous warning like the movie poster and trailer say, just “we’re old.” Because this is a clichéd horror movie and Shyamalan blew his writing wad with The Sixth Sense (fine, I‘ll give you Unbreakable – let it go already), there is absolutely no chance the kids will stay in their room for even one night. Just once, wouldn’t it be nice if the warning were heeded in this type of movie? Rather than have the kids immediately do what they shouldn’t do (like every scary movie ever made), wake them up with sounds coming from the house and let them explore the next night (after more sounds) after finding signs of weirdness in the house during the day. Instead, Shyamalan chose to have Rebecca leave the room and walk to the top of the stairs, where she sees grandma puking her way across the landing.
The next three days are basically all the same. The kids discover more weird behavior, but the grandparents explain it all away as “we’re old.” And the problem is that they are right. Yes, grandma moves a little fast on all fours (she does a lot of crawling around), but everything else that is happening can definitely be attributed to senility and advanced age. Grandma loses her clothes more than once and laughs at the wall while grandpa wears adult diapers and keeps dressing up for a costume party from the past. If anything, this movie is a sad comedy about two kids stuck with crazy old coots rather than a horror flick. And, yes, that turns out to be half the twist (and the extremely predictable half) – the grandparents are crazy.
By the fourth night, the film finally starts to escalate the tension when grandma discovers the kids’ hidden camera in the living room and slams into their bedroom door while wielding a carving knife. Unfortunately, the film takes nearly its entire running time to escalate to something beyond kooky, so by this point you will be thoroughly bored. The final morning of the trip, the kids are Skype-ing with mom and they tell her to come get them. They aim the laptop camera at the grandparents and the other half of the twist is revealed – (one more time…SPOILER ALERT) – they aren’t mom’s parents. Now that that’s out of the way, the film goes into full-blown stupid horror movie clichés, such as…
- Rebecca leaves Tyler alone with the grandparents.
- Rebecca decides to investigate the basement – by herself.
- Rebecca discovers that the fake grandparents are escaped mental patients, and also discovers the dead bodies of her actual grandparents.
- While locked in a dark room with grandma, Rebecca keeps moving the light off of grandma, even though grandma appears to be paralyzed when the light is on her.
- Both kids refuse to pick up weapons during the battle with the grandparents (we literally see fire pokers and cast-iron skillets), choosing to tackle and jump on them instead.
- Rebecca did pick up a weapon – a shard of broken glass from a mirror, but decided not to keep it when she attacks grandpa.
- (Is it just me, or is Rebecca awfully stupid for a character portrayed as a super-brainy film nerd?)
- The kids overcome ridiculously specific issues (Rebecca won’t look in mirrors and Tyler freezes up during football games) to defeat the grandparents.
- Cops don’t show up until three seconds after the kids have dispatched with the grandparents even though they alerted their mom to the issue that morning.
To be fair, my immediate reaction to the film upon leaving the theater was that it was really boring, but not Shyamalan’s worst film. But on the drive home, my friend and I went from thinking it was merely a waste of time to a wretched piece of crap. Now that you know the twist, you can see how enormous a plot hole the premise itself presents and it led use to realize even more plot holes, like…
- Why is nobody in town searching for two escaped mental patients who killed their own children decades earlier?
- Why doesn’t mom tell the kids to just run from the house?
- Why does Rebecca wait three days to clean the food off the laptop camera that grandma “accidentally” put there?
- Wait – grandma was savvy enough to block one camera and find another, but not savvy enough to cut the Internet cable in the house?
- Wouldn’t the kids be able to smell the bodies of two corpses that have been rotting for at least a week?
- And my personal favorite – what kind of terrible mom sends her children to meet two strangers and doesn’t bother to show them a picture of the people they are supposed to be looking for when they get off the train?
So, yes, The Visit is a giant, boring, steaming pile of Shyamalan. It has terrible pacing, the twist is completely unnecessary, it relies on predictable jump-scare tactics to make sure the audience hasn’t fallen into a coma, and doesn’t even bother to follow its own rules. In other words, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from M. Night.
Rating: Haha, good one.