Friday, September 11, 2015


Opening this weekend:

The VisitRecently I was reading a silly online list of pop-culture opinions—though the list referred to them as “pop-culture facts no one denies”—meant to be provocative. Number Six read: “The Village is a borderline excellent movie that would garner unanimous praise if it was M Night Shyamalan’s first film.”

“Unanimous” might be a bit much, but I quite agree that it’s at least borderline excellent, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks so. I’m hoping for a critical rediscovery of that movie. The Village was, however, the only major break in Shyamalan’s streak of misfires and interesting failures since his triumph in 1999 with The Sixth Sense. Until now, that is.

Shyamalan’s latest, The Visit, is a “mockumentary,” and if you’re put off right away by the idea of sitting through another exercise in that overused device I don’t blame you. But it’s not oppressive here, in part because the cinematography, by Maryse Alberti, is rich and warm—the teenage heroine evidently has really good video cameras—and in part because said heroine gives her younger brother a second camera, so we get more than one angle.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are sent by their divorced Mom (Kathryn Hahn) to visit her long-estranged parents in rural Pennsylvania while she goes on a cruise with her new boyfriend. Becca decides to shoot the visit, not only because she’s an aspiring filmmaker but because she’s hoping to get what she calls “The Elixir” for her Mom: A statement of conciliation from her parents for whatever it was that caused the falling-out back in the day.

Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie) meet the kids at the train and take them to the handsome farmhouse where their Mom grew up. Their hosts are a charming old couple, but Pop-Pop warns them not to go in the cellar—because of the mold, he says—and to stay in their room after 9:30 p.m.

And thus, gradually, the creepy stuff starts. Nana and Pop-Pop alternate—one does something freaky, gross or inappropriate, and the other gently, soberly explains it to the kids as “sundowning” or whatever. The thriller pacing is expert, though on the “character” side of the writing there are some heavy-handed set-ups that are a little too pat in their payoffs. But we’re carried past this Afterschool Special dramaturgy by the acting, especially that of the lovely DeJonge and the hilarious, freestyling Oxenbould (both Australians, by the way).

It’s a nervy, imaginative gem of a horror picture, even better than David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, which ran out of steam before the end. The Visit doesn’t—it steadily, cunningly builds, to a well-engineered twist and a hair-raising finale.

Best of all, unlike many contemporary horror pictures, The Visit is fun—Shyamalan’s touch here is playfully macabre, even scatological, and the audience responds with persistent giggles that are both nervous and genuine. As Nana explains, when Becca comes upon her having a laughing fit: “I have the Deep Darkies. You have to laugh, to keep the Deep Darkies in a cave.”

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