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Sept. 16, 2015

"The Visit" is well worth a visit

by Charles Lott, Online Features Editor
"The Visit" combines elements from "Hansel and Gretel," found footage horror movies, and director M. Night Shyamalan’s own brand of twisted surprise ending, making it the best horror movie of the summer.

At the start of the film, teenage siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) take the train to their grandparents' house for the week while their mom (Kathryn Hahn) goes on a cruise with her boyfriend. This is the kids' first time meeting Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) whom they initially find to be nice, albeit a bit strange.

The Visit

(released September 10, 2015)

"The Visit" scares viewers with a new take on the story of Hansel and Gretel.

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"The Visit" scares viewers with a new take on the story of Hansel and Gretel.

The peculiarities of Nana and Pop Pop emerge when they tell their grandchildren the house rules. They strictly enforce a 9:30 bedtime, and Becca and Tyler aren’t allowed to leave their room until the morning. The kids are also denied entrance to the basement. Independently, these rules wouldn’t be especially off-putting. But the grandparents’ ensuing behavior adds to the effect.

This odd behavior starts when the kids catch their Pop Pop with a gun in his mouth, and witness their Nana scratching at the walls, laughing at nothing and even attacking their bedroom door with a butcher’s knife. When Becca tries to contact her mom via webcam, she discovers that Nana has disabled the camera by accidentally spilling hot wax on it. When the computer returns to working order, the truth about their grandparents is revealed in true M. Night Shyamalan style, bringing the movie to an unexpected end.

What sets this movie apart from others of the same genre is the variety of tricks used to scare its audience senseless. Many horror films rely too heavily on intense gore, use too many jump scares or present a villain or setting that just isn’t scary. Shyamalan preys on several common fears, especially those experienced by the teenage audience, explaining the movie’s PG-13 rating.

The first of these fears is grandparents. Old people in general can seem a little odd, mainly because of their old-fashioned tendencies. But even more scary than grandpa is the house in which he lives. Everybody remembers the rickety old house where their relatives live, with all of its hidey holes and creaky staircases, and the idea to set a horror movie in that kind of home is ingenious.

The integration of a classic fairy tale into the plot is another feature unique to this film. "Hansel and Gretel," the story of the two kids who are lured to a witch's house and are almost eaten alive, is one of the sickest fairy tales ever written for a child audience. Shyamalan borrows a few of its old mantras, as seen in the scene in which Nana asks Becca to get inside the oven to help clean it, while still crafting an original plot.

While these parts of the movie make it overall a success, it is sorely lacking in other respects. The acting is a bit stale, as it often is when a film relies so heavily on child actors. This might also be payback for the decision to cast relatively unknown actors for leading roles.

There are also some reoccurring horror film clichés throughout, like the found footage style in which the movie is shot, and Nana's tendencies to sit quietly in a rocking chair and scratch at walls and doors.

Overall, this movie is well worth the price of admittance, and is the only truly good horror movie of the summer. M. Night Shyamalan could be on the up and up for the first time in years. And if you’re the grandparent of a teenager who has seen this movie, don’t be offended if your grandchildren treat you a little differently for a while.

"The Visit" is rated PG-13 for thematic material including terror, violence and some nudity, and for brief language, and is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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