Old Man Take a Look at My Knife
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould
Homemade cookies and the warm, intense scents of cloves have been the tinder of horror stories since Hansel and Gretel. The unassuming guise of coziness hides a jack-o-lantern smile, and a venomous agenda. Here, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan drills into our subconscious fear of age, and the curious maladies that come with the gears of time. Children misunderstand their elders’ idiosyncrasies, and aging adults dread the onset of disease and ailments. It’s a perfect storm of malaise and confusion. With The Visit, the once heralded director chooses to puff out his chest, while still leaving room for levity. Many of the sequences in his latest opus are marbled with humor: it makes you wonder if M. Night Shyamalan is using self-parody as a defense mechanism for critics, more than an organic narrative device.
When a middle-aged mother, played by the garrulous and lively Kathryn Hahn, decides to set sail on a cruise liner, her precocious children are sent to visit their grandparents for the first time. Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) decide to make a stirring documentary out of their stay. Of course, in convenient fashion, the location is so rural that cellphones rebuke signals (the horror!).
Becca is the more tenacious and grim out of the two children, and often times speaks as if she’s using a Diablo Cody dialogue generator. Tyler, on the other hand, is more boisterous and colorful. He’s basically Seth Green in Cant Hardly Wait. The siblings buck heads, on occasion, but understand and appreciate each others wily quirks. When the pair meet their stoic grandparents, M. Night Shyamalan uses the generational difference to pull cheap laughs (“they haven’t even heard of One Direction!”).
As the days pass by, the dreary and cumbersome visit becomes less placid and more odd. After dark, the children are told to stay in their room, even though disconcerting noises are heard echoing throughout the home. Here, 9:30 pm is the bewitching hour, not 3 am. M. Night’s visuals, throughout The Visit, feel re-purposed and flat. The budget – a paltry 5 million – is not so much the problem as is the bankruptcy of ideas. For someone once lauded as a master storyteller, there are quite a few derivative and lazy scares. From found footage to aggressive spider walking, this is a greatest hits package of horror movies from the past decade (there’s even a well, if you were wondering).
The young actors are great, and Ed Oxenbould, in particular, feels at ease in front of the camera. His swift, energetic turn is both carbonated and believable. Olivia DeJonge is a great counterpoint, and delivers some credible emotion. Deanna Dunagan’s portrayal of a mercurial and volatile grandmother is efficient if not prosaic. Meanwhile, Peter McRobbie plays “Pop Pop” as if he’s trying to channel an aloof James Rebhorn. Kathryn Hahn is dealt the worst hand, though, as she has to say lines such as “it was a hoot!” – the real twist is that no person under 50 would use that expression.
The Visit isn’t terrible, and could probably find its way into a blase Masters of Horror box set with little difficulty. That said, M. Night Shyamalan’s rookie season seems to be more and more of an anomaly. At this point, he’s a bottom of the order hitter, and the real concern is that he seems to be okay with that.