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Movie Night – 'The Visit' brings horror, thriller, comedy mix (Sept. 23, 2015 issue)

“The Visit,” the new film by M. Night Shyamalan, is creepy, weird, unsettling, and (surprisingly) funny. Like most of Shyamalan’s films, much of the actual plot of “The Visit” is not revealed in the trailer and there’s a devious little plot twist at the end.
Paula (Kathryn Hahn) is a single mother to 15-year-old Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and 13-year-old Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). When Paula was 18 she had an argument with her parents, the details of which Paula refuses to divulge to her kids. Paula left home and never looked back. As a result of this familial rift, Rebecca and Tyler have never met their grandparents.
Rebecca is an aspiring filmmaker and the entire movie is filmed documentary style. All of the scenes are shot with Rebecca’s camera or one she gives to Tyler for additional camera angles. Tyler is in many ways the opposite of Rebecca. Rather than solemn and serious, Tyler is goofy and kooky. His favorite pastime is performing impromptu rap songs.
Out of the blue Paula was contacted by her parents. They asked if their grandchildren could visit them for a week. Paula reluctantly agreed to the visit and puts the kids on the train, off to meet their grandparents for the first time. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) meet Rebecca and Tyler at the train station and take them to the remote farmhouse where their mother grew up and where they still live. Nana and Pop Pop appear to be pillars of the community, they even volunteer at a local hospital.
At first everything goes well. Nana bakes all kinds of goodies and both she and Pop Pop are interested in learning about the grandchildren they never knew. They appear to be the ideal grandparents, doting on both Rebecca and Tyler. The only glitch on the first day of the visit is that bedtime is 9:30.
Things begin to change when Rebecca and Tyler hear noises in the darkened house outside their bedroom door. As kids (and people in movies) are wont to do, Rebecca and Tyler have the insatiable desire to know what is happening outside their door. From the moment they open that door their visit only gets stranger.
“The Visit” is hard to categorize. The advertisements made it look like a horror movie, yet the filmmakers claim it’s a thriller. There are also some pretty funny moments, mostly courtesy of Ed Oxenbould. The reality is that the movie is not just a horror film, a thriller, or a comedy, but an unusual mix of all three. The result is that you will find yourself laughing when you should be creeped out or on the edge of your seat.
The documentary style in which the movie was filmed detracts from the overall enjoyment of the film. The camera jumps and jerks too much. Think “The Blair Witch Project,” with less herky-jerky jumping around with the camera and not nearly as scary.
As far as the acting goes, Ed Oxenbould (who played the title character in “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”) was the star. All of the humor in the movie was due not only to the lines he said but also to his delivery. His comic timing was spot-on. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Deanna Dunagan provided most of the downright eerie scenes. She was responsible for all scenes that made you jump or make you want to avert your eyes.
“The Visit” is not exactly a vintage M. Night Shyamalan movie, but it’s closer than most of his recent efforts. Still, you’re probably better off waiting for “The Visit” to become a rental, there’s nothing in the film that demands you see it on the big screen.
Grade: B
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including terror, violence, and some nudity, and for brief language.