After seeing M. Night Shyamalan move into the television arena so well with the very good Wayward Pines, The visit comes as more than a bit of a letdown.
True, it has a lovely, elegant twist – one of Shyamalan’s best – but you have to wade through a lot of boring to get there.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are the victims of abandonment – their father (seen only in flashback) left their mom (Kathryn Hahn) when Tyler was barely a toddler. Since then, their mom has been a great parent but they can tell she’s a bit broken, so when her new boyfriend asks her to go on a Caribbean cruise with him, they agree to stay with her estranged parents (they apparently haven’t spoken since she left to get married – and they didn’t approve of the guy) on their farm for the week.
Becca decides to make a documentary of the trip (yes, fake documentary) and takes her video camera and a digital SLR camera that shots video as well, with them. That way, both she and her brother can get footage.
At first, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) seem like a wonderful couple – until Pop Pop sneaks off to the barn (which he keeps padlocked) and Nana does some strange things after bedtime.
Nana explains away Pop Pop’s trips to the barn and his being embarrassed because he’s incontinent and hides his diapers there; Pop Pop explains that Nana has a kind of limited mental health problem called sundowning, where elderly people sometimes behave differently after, of course, the sun goes down.
Of course, that’s not all the weird behavior – Pop Pop seems to be convinced he needs to get dressed up for a costume party, and neither of the two want to talk about their daughter (Nana’s reaction is particularly disturbing).
The problem is that The Visit spends more than enough time setting the stage, making explanations and wasting time until the twist happens (plenty of moments are shot as though something should be in the shot’s periphery, but nothing happens) that by the time it arrives, it doesn’t carry near the weight that it should.
Then, the pace accelerates and Shyamalan zips through the tense parts so quickly that we arrive at the coda – which is actually quite clever (at least as clever as the actual twist) – and the credits roll, leaving us wondering what all the fuss was.
Pluses include Shyamalan figuring out ways to alleviate the constant motion of handheld by having the cameras placed at certain vantage points to give a steady frame for a few key moments, and Hahn’s brilliant performance as Mom – she runs through a real range in what is the only satisfactory arc in the film. Having Tyler be a wannabe rapper is good for a laugh – Oxenbould really sells it.
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