Hiding the duck9/16/2015
If you have followed the career of M. Night Shyamalan at all, then “The Visit” is a very important film. Because, “The Visit” marks the point in Shyamalan’s career where he officially tosses his hands up in the air and admits that he has no idea what he’s doing.
“The Visit” is told, quasi-documentary style, through the lens of 15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) has been estranged from her parents for 15 years due to her decision to marry an older man. A decade and a half later, Mom (she’s never given a name) is a single mother of two teenagers, and her parents reach out, requesting to finally meet their grandchildren.
Mom doesn’t wish to see her parents for reasons that are kept secret. She tells her daughter that she did something terrible the day she left home but refuses to elaborate. Mom does, however, allow Becca and Tyler to take a trip and visit their grandparents’ home for a week, while Mom and her new boyfriend head out on a cruise. Becca, convinced that she needs to do something to repair the rift between her mother and grandparents, decides to create a documentary about their first visit, hoping to heal some wounds along the way.
The titular visit starts out normal enough, but the teens quickly find out that Grandma and Grandpa aren’t quite right, as things get progressively weirder and more dangerous as the week goes by.
“The Visit” has a couple of redeeming qualities, the two biggest of which are Oxenbould and DeJonge. Both young actors are charismatic and likable. They play off each other well, and their performances give “The Visit” all of its warmth and most of its humor. Deanna Dunagan, playing the grandmother, is another strong performer who takes a genuinely weird character and gives it a level of humanity that keeps the entire film from turning into an open farce.
But if you are looking for anything more than the absolute cheapest of scares, “The Visit” is a sore disappointment. Most of the tension is developed thanks to the “found-footage” style in which the film is shot, with the story being presented to us entirely through the lenses of Becca’s hand-held cameras. It is a technique that creates tension for the viewer by artificially limiting our point of view, and it is a lazy way of developing a sense of dread. Additionally, most of the actual moments of fright are brought about through jump scares, which are the hallmark of lazy filmmaking. If you cannot find any other way to scare the audience than by having someone jump into the frame yelling “boo,” then you need to re-examine your film.
When Shyamalan’s films work, it is only because he takes enormous liberties with the presentation of his story. When you look back on one of his films knowing what the twist is, it becomes apparent just how many scenes “cheat” and only work because he is deliberately hiding something from us that would not normally be hidden. People withhold vital information in conversations for no genuine reason, and whole scenes play out predicated upon the fact that you do not have a vital piece of the puzzle. That is fine, when the puzzle is one that naturally works. But Shyamalan’s whole schtick is equivalent to a man who is bad at telling jokes — when he gets to the punchline and it does not make sense, only then does he mention that one of the characters was a duck the whole time. CV