by Tony Johnson 09.16.2015 73 days ago
at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
universal pictures

Spoonful of Cinema: The Visit

The Visit is a change-up for M. Night Shyamalan. Kind of. The man notorious for refusing to make a movie that doesn’t have a massive twist, usually in the final few moments of the film, has brought us Academy Award-nominated The Sixth Sense, but he has also brought us Razzie-nominated films like The Happening and (gulp) After Earth. So when he decided to try to get back to his roots of suspense and horror and away from his misadventures in big budget nonsense, I decided I would take a flier. The premise surrounding The Visit is as straightforward and crisp as vintage Shaymalan could get. Two grandchildren, Becca and Tyler, armed with digital cameras, go to visit their never-met grandparents and things get a little… spooky. Grandpa is wildly paranoid. Grandma wanders around at night, sometimes on all fours, sometimes scratching the wall the way a housecat would a scratching post. Grandma gets a kick out of having Becca climb in the oven — “all the way in” — to clean it. Of course with Shyamalan, it can’t be all that simple. That would be too fun to watch. There’s a Shyamalan-trademark family drama needlessly bubbling underneath the otherwise self-explanatory event. Becca and Tyler’s mother, played by Kathryn Hahn, eloped against her parents’ will only to be ditched by her husband once Tyler, the younger of the siblings, was born. It feels like a cheap way to get us to fear for the kids’ fates, and feels even more like a waste of my time in the theater. Shyamalan really lays the family-love on thick throughout, doing his damnedest to get us to pray to whatever we believe in that the grandparents are only very strange, somewhat sick elderly folk and not the perhaps murderous plotters looking to claim vengeance on their daughter’s rebellious days that we can’t help but suspect. Speaking of trying to get us to like the characters, I really have to wonder what in the world I was supposed to like about Tyler, the tween-ish boy counterpart to his much more likable older sister, Becca. Tyler is annoying. I don’t like his voice, I don’t like how clever he thinks he is and I don’t like that he raps about cake. He drives me nuts. I really can’t understate how obnoxious this freaking kid is, and I remember thinking to myself very honestly, “Please, if only one of these kids makes it out of the visit alive, take Tyler.” While I imagine Shyamalan was trying to make the kids a sort of duality in the sense that one is female and modest while the other is male and blurts whatever is on his immature mind, M. Night really just makes one kid seem like an angel and the other seem like that accumulation of snot you get in your nose (sometimes only one nostril, now that’s the worst) overnight when you have the flu. To all you Louis C.K. fans out there, Tyler is essentially my Jizanthapus. He’s a kid, and I shouldn’t despise him, but… I totally despise and I won’t lose a second of sleep over it. For all I know, young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould — unfortunate enough to be cast as Tyler — has a bright career ahead of him. If he does, this performance will be that embarrassing moment he doesn’t want brought up in interviews. The worst part is, this isn’t his fault. Shyamalan really went to great lengths to create one of the lamest characters of the year, and perhaps of his career (and that is really saying something). But after we get past the fact that the movie is split three-quarters the way of solid horror flick, one-quarter sappy family drama and after we put up with Tyler’s painful inclination to rap about nonsense off-beat in random moments, we are still forced to come to grips with the found-footage direction style of the film. No longer a fresh way to frame a horror flick, the found-footage approach is honestly executed with a surprising volume of youthful energy from the veteran filmmaker behind the cameras (all two of them). The Blair Witch Project may have popularized (and perhaps immediately perfected) the style for scare-tactics all the way back in 1999 (ironically the same year Shyamalan popularized himself with The Sixth Sense) but the method seems to still have something to offer the world of horror films. The “jump scares” are tastefully sparse and truly give audiences the surprised shouts we crave heading into a theater for a scary movie like The Visit. I tend to be more impressed with the “slow-burn” scares that push horror films into the realm of classics, and while The Visit offers enough paranoia to keep us in the theater, it also falls flat on its face often enough to be make us raise an eyebrow. I found myself laughing every three or four times I was supposed to be shaking in my seat. That’s not a good formula for a good horror film. While I’m on the subject, let me just be clear: This is not a good any-kind-of film, and it basically derails its own formula. When a film has one half of a protagonist duo of grandkids that is utterly unlikable and one half of an antagonistic duo of grandparents makes you chuckle when you know you’re supposed to be screaming, the movie doesn’t come out on top. It comes out low (but not the lowest) on the Shayamalan scale, but with a much more bitter taste than most of his failures. There’s a good movie somewhere in The Visit. Perhaps this one is on the editor, but I’ve been too disappointed too many times by M. Night to believe anyone but the writer/director deserves most of my negative feelings toward the horror flick. While The Happening and After Earth were downright disastrous implosions, The Visit has just enough redeeming qualities to keep us generally on board, somewhat intrigued and mostly entertained. But that’s not what Shyamalan wants us to feel. It’s not what I want either, but it’s what we got. If you’ve been holding out for a Shyamalan comeback, this may not be the trip you want to take a chance on. Grade: D

Cincinnati vs. The World 06.19.2013

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 19, 2013
China has invented “anti-pervert” hairy pantyhose for women to wear in case anyone should wrongly glance at a woman’s bare legs in the summer. WORLD -1   

Devil (Review)

Traditional Devil-walking-among-us tale updated to Philadelphia elevator

0 Comments · Friday, September 17, 2010
Producer M. Night Shyamalan pulls off a neat and quite surprising trick here, mimicking the best of the 'Saw' franchise (the preachy tension) without succumbing to the torture porn thrills of snapping traps and raw gaping wounds. Coming from a filmmaker caught in a horrific slump, it's a risky endeavor but ultimately a positive step in his career. Grade: C.  

The Last Airbender (Review)

Cartoon adpatation suffers from condensed narrative and muddy 3-D effects

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 7, 2010
M. Night Shyamalan appears willing to try anything to turn around his career. Here he offers up a somewhat intriguing adaptation of a cartoon series about the return of a young Dalai Lama-ish air element controller named Aang who must learn to master his powers and inspire the people of the other fractured elemental nations to revolt against the tyranny of the Fire Nation. Grade: C.