Once in awhile, I encounter a movie so bad that I’m seriously tempted to stand by the ticket counter begging people who are queuing up for the next show not to spend their money on such tripe. “The Visit,” released in the US today, was one of those movies. Still, there’s always the danger of reverse psychology, and so I refrain.
I’ve never met its director M. Night Shyamalan, but I have a feeling he and I watched the same TV detective shows about a decade ago. There are definite elements of a rather macabre episode of “Without a Trace,” (complete with the phantom swinging swing), in which a little girl is kidnapped from the playground and imprisoned by a nice elderly couple. The episode also featured an oven. It gave me a nightmare, and I suspect that “The Visit” will give me one tonight, although that is not a reason to avoid it. It should be avoided simply because it’s not very good.
In “The Visit,” Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould are the standard issue movie children of Kathryn Hahn (she’s a precocious would-be filmmaker; he’s a would-be rap star), who spend a week with their grandparents, played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie. The plot is one that requires a degree of negligence on the part of the mother that would be cause for calling Child Protective Services in real life, but it’s a movie, so it’s not an issue. Anyway, Kathryn sends her kids to stay with her parents in their isolated countryside house (no landline, and no signal for cells), while she takes a cruise with her boyfriend. It isn’t long before two things become clear: a) the kids still haven’t processed their dad moving out, and b) something is off with both the grandparents.
Olivia is using the time to film a documentary, which makes a great excuse for the camera to tilt and turn and generally go all “Blair Witch Project.” She also hopes to find out just what transpired that led to her mother moving out and refusing to communicate for years with her parents. It’s good that they at least have a laptop so they can Skype with mom about certain bizarre behaviors Nana and Pop Pop are displaying. Like Deanna’s penchant for sneaking into the space under the house and scaring the pants off both kids – and then merrily retreating to the kitchen to bake. Or like Peter’s mysterious shed. Not to mention both grandparents’ warnings about the supernatural. Are they going senile, displaying signs of mental illness, or is something else going on?
Both Deanna and Peter do a great job swinging from sweet to sinister and back again. Kathryn is very convincing in the role of the ditzy mom, as well. But the plot is not particularly original, and it becomes obvious what’s going on to the viewer, even though the kids at that point are still figuring things out. (I also found the rapping extremely annoying, though it could just be my age.) My main problem was the fact that no child could possibly emerge from the experience these two did so healed so fast, but that’s movie trauma for you. Apparently, multiple brushes with danger can be cured in a few weeks, while Dad moving out takes years to adjust to. Good to know.
(The precise title of what is burned in my memory as “the creepy oven episode,” turned out to be an episode of “Criminal Minds” called “Mosley Lane”. Bud Cort of “Harold and Maude” plays one of the kidnappers.)