THE VISIT // HOMEGROWN HOKUM
Humans do incredibly asinine things in horror movies. First, there are the unreasonable psychos. Think of Norman Bates in “Psycho,” Michael Myers in “Halloween,” Jason Voorhees in “Friday the 13th,” Victor Crowley in “Hatchet,” Jigsaw in “Saw,” Pinhead in “Hellraiser,” the Creeper in “Jeepers Creepers,” Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs,” and Leatherface in “The Texas Chainsaw.” These psychos cover a broad gamut, and they’re all warped beyond imagination. Some spectators refuse to watch horror movies because the psychos are too unrealistic. Second, there are the poor, unfortunate victims who stumble into the web of terror that these psychos have spun to trap them. A strong, memorable horror chiller requires a unique villain, a chain of spine-chilling predicaments, and compelling victims. Indeed, the unsavory psychos with their degenerate deeds often overshadow their hopelessly sympathetic victims. Nevertheless, the victims must rise to the challenge. Most horror movie aficionados crave a genuinely creepy psycho villain, and a good horror movie franchise can thrive ad infinitum on such a character either human or inhuman as the aforementioned examples attest. Of course, it all boils down which one you tolerate the least. Bland psychos and stupid victims can undermine a horror movie, and “Sixth Sense” director M. Night Shyamalan’s proves this point with “The Visit”, an execrable exercise in suspense. The children in this ‘found footage’ horror chiller are tangled up in a web of depravity and deception that might be scary if it weren’t for their own colossal ignorance as well as that of their half-witted mom. Mind you, you cannot blame the victims strictly for making a bad horror movie. The writers and the director can be just as culpable. M. Night Shyamalan has created some of the most suspenseful, unforgettable, scary sagas with “The Sixth Sense” (1999), “Unbreakable” (2000), and “Signs” (2002), before his creativity unraveled with “The Village” (2004), “The Happening” (2008), “The Last Airbender” (2010), and “After Earth” (2013). Many abhorred “Lady in the Water” (2006), but I thought it was a clever and captivating fantasy comedy. As dreadful as “After Earth” was, the Will Smith debacle surpassed the wholly underwhelming “Visit.”
“The Visit” unfolds from the perspective of two children, 15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge of “The Sisterhood of the Night”) and her 12-year old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould of “Paper Planes”), who spend a week with their maternal grandparents in the sticks so their divorced, irresponsible, single mom, Loretta (Kathryn Hahn of “We’re The Millers”), can take a Caribbean cruise with her boyfriend. Becca aspires to be a filmmaker and sets her sights on lensing a documentary about their experience at grandma’s house. In part, Becca is producing this documentary to help her mom recover from her estranged relationship with her parents. Essentially, mom hasn’t uttered a word to her folks in fifteen years. She eloped with her substitute teacher boyfriend when she was nineteen without her parents’ approval. Ironically, Loretta’s parents were right; the guy was a loser, but the marriage yielded Becca and Tyler. Although M. Night Shyamalan has appropriated the surefire formula of the ‘found footage’ film, “The Visit” isn’t a movie where the footage turns up after the pandemonium. Becca and her younger brother rely on cameras throughout their visit to capture their mommy’s parents. What they encounter in the middle of remote Pennsylvania is far from anything they could have imagined. First, their grandfather Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie of “Lincoln”) establishes ground rules. The siblings must be in bed no later than 9:30 p.m. Second, they cannot venture into the padlocked basement. Nana (Deanna Dunagan of “Mariachi Gringo”) behaves normally during the day and spends most of her time in the kitchen baking. After the sun sets, however, she cavorts about the premises, often naked, periodically puking on the floors when she isn’t scratching at the walls like a cat sharpening its claws. Pop Pop confides in the kids that Nana is afflicted with dementia. Pop Pop is no role model himself. He chops wood endlessly and cleans a rifle. Tyler stalks Pop Pop and spots him going to a woodshed. Curious Tyler decides to inspect the woodshed, and he gets the surprise of his life. When Tyler isn’t making up rap lyrics, he approaches everything with caution because he suffers from germophobia. You can imagine his horror when he discovers Pop Pop is plagued by incontinence, wears adult diapers, and stockpiles these soiled undies in the woodshed. Smack in the middle of what is supposed to be a scary movie we are treated to a pile of poop and prompted to cackle at Tyler’s terror. Indeed, this constitutes bowel humor, and it is funny because Tyler screams the S-word. Later, Shyamalan replays this moment at the expense of our tyke-sized hero. Consequently, Pop Pop and Nana pose little threat to either child. Eventually, Nana asks unsuspecting Becca to crawl into their huge oven to clean it. Presumably, Becca has neither heard about nor read Grimm’s classic fairy tale about Hansel and Gretel. Not only are our victims stupid but also they are culturally illiterate. If once were not enough, Nana persuades Becca to climb into the oven again while Tyler watches them! Anybody who has seen any M. Night Shyamalan movies should know by now about his affection for pulling unexpected twists in the tradition of American short story writer O’Henry. The twist in “The Visit” is so egregiously awful that you will want to get up and storm out of the theater. Initially, when I saw this claptrap, I got up and left because it was so incredibly idiotic. Of course, since I wanted to write a movie review, I went back to watch every minute of “The Visit.”
Like the Mark Wahlberg thriller “The Happening,” “The Visit” flounders for lack of anything either frightening or fascinating. The homicidal grandparents aren’t sufficiently unnerving, and Shyamalan fails to generate an atmosphere laden with terror. Contrived above all else, “The Visit” qualifies as homegrown hokum.
CHRIS ROBINSON

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