Shyamalan visits road to cinematic recovery
By Bob Bloom
M. Night Shyamalan is up to his parlor tricks again with “The Visit.”
The story is simplicity itself: Two children who have never met their mother’s parents make their initial trip to the rural Pennsylvania town where the elderly couple live.
But, Shyamalan offers hints that something is out of kilter and just waiting to barrel to the forefront.
He drops hints here and there, but in such an innocuous manner that you are not sure whether or not to take him seriously.
Despite the film’s lighter moments — and there are many — an ominous air of foreboding hangs over the feature like a brightly lit, oversized chandelier.
Yet, Shyamalan fails to fully capitalize on the comic and horror elements of the situation. Because his last few efforts have been critical and financial flops, it is as if he is taking a cautious and tentative approach this time, trying to feel his way back to the form of such earlier successes as “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.”
The problem with “The Visit” is its presentation. Shyamalan takes the found-footage video approach that has become such a cliché in recent years.
The story is told through the grandchildren’s lenses, which makes it more intimate, while, alternately, constructing a buffer between the audience and the characters.
The performances, overall, are very solid, especially young Ed Oxenbould as Tyler, a precocious wanna-be rapper with a smart mouth and sharp wit.
Olivia DeJonge as Becca is quick, intelligent, somewhat condescending to her younger brother, and levelheaded.
Deanna Dunagan as Nana and Peter McRobbie as Pop Pop work well as portraying old people who tightrope a thin line between normalcy and eccentricity.
Shyamalan, through Becca and Tyler, continually explain away some of their grandparents’ odder moments as age-related physical and mental infirmities, in an attempt to lull us into accepting these episodes as ordinary behavior.
The final act, which includes the big revelation, is fully plausible. It also contains the film’s most frightening, though a little disjointed, moments.
Shyamalan succeeds in playing off the audience’s expectations, knowing that we will expect something unexpected. He teases constantly — keep an eye on the big kitchen oven — then sneaks in a jab when we are looking the other way.
“The Visit” is an entertaining but uneven concoction that showcases what Shyamalan does best — manipulate and distract his audience, creating an uneasiness and goose bumps that we have been eagerly waiting for several years.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
2½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), disturbing images and themes, nudity, violence, language