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Family Movie Review: The Visit (PG-13)

TheVisit ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 94 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. Pretty typical scary movie stuff: some grotesque imagery, including an old woman prone to making maniacal faces and contorting her body in eerie ways; a variety of violence, including characters brandishing knives and guns and threatening others, as well as a few dead bodies; some cursing and misogynistic language played for laughs; some nudity (an old woman’s butt, a few times); and some really gross bathroom-related stuff, including feces being smushed into someone’s face and projecting vomiting.

‘The Visit’ doesn’t really have a reason to exist. It’s an uninspired horror film with false emotional beats, unnecessary gross-out humor, and nothing new to add to the genre.

By Roxana Hadadi

Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan returns to movies after 2013’s disappointing “After Earth” with the even-more-disappointing “The Visit,” his first foray into straight horror. It’s a silly, stupid movie, which wastes some moments of solid tension and character-building with a falsely emotional ending and some truly unnecessary and disgusting gross-out moments.

The film is simultaneously a family drama, a meta commentary on filmmaking and the found-footage style, and a horror movie, and Shyamalan never strikes a balance that works. He wrote and directed the film, and there are some elements that are admirable: the relationship he builds between the sibling leads and the lurking tension in the first half of the film both work.

But Shyamalan is known for his twists, and the marketing for “The Visit” has pretty much given everything away. You’re waiting for the twist the whole time, and when it arrives, it’s met with a shrug. There just isn’t much here.
“The Visit” focuses on the Jamison family: Mother Paula (Kathryn Hahn, of “Tomorrowland”) parted with her parents on bad terms 15 years ago, and the man she abandoned her parents for has left her for another woman. She’s been raising their kids—the cinemaphile and sensitive 15-year-old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and the germ-fearing, hip-hop-loving 13-year-old Tyler (Ed Oxenbould, of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”)—on her own, and understands how abandoned the children feel by their father.

So when Paula’s parents contact her, wanting to spend a week with the grandchildren they’ve never met, she agrees, sending them by train to her family’s remote farmhouse. Becca, thinking she’ll discover why her mother and grandparents parted on such awful terms, decides to film the whole trip for a documentary, meaning her two cameras are always running—for better or for worse.

At first, things seem OK. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) is kind and a good cook, serving up cookies and homemade pretzels for the kids. Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie, of “Lincoln”) seems steady and authoritative. But Becca and Tyler are banned from leaving their bedroom after 9:30 p.m. or visiting the basement, Pop Pop keeps taking mysterious trips to an abandoned shed, Nana walks around at night projective vomiting and clawing on walls, and things begin to unravel quickly. As the week progresses, things get stranger and stranger—but is it because Nana and Pop Pop are just old? Or is there something creepier, and more sinister for Becca and Tyler, happening here?

The commercials for this film have already given away most of the scares, which are of the jump variety: there’s nothing onscreen and then Nana’s grotesque face flashes onto it, Nana coerces Becca to get into the oven, Tyler discovers something gross on the family’s property. There is really one surprise left in the film, the major twist, and it’s telegraphed from the beginning; for parents or teens who are into horror films, they will call it from a mile away.

Shyamalan isn’t adding anything new to the genre with “The Visit,” and the film is more a collection of misguided choices than anything else. A self-aware acknowledgement that the film is found footage doesn’t go any further than winking smugness. An increasing reliance on feces as a gross-out tactic feels cheap. And the film’s attempt to tie together a message of forgiveness with a violent conclusion is tacky. “The Visit” is boring at best and forgettable at worst—and not at all worth spending your money on.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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