The Visit (PG-13) ***
This film is being called “M. Night Shyamalan’s Comeback,” and I suppose it is. After “The Last Airbender,” “The Happening” and very mixed reviews for a handful of others, Shyamalan returns to possible plots for his return to favor with very little happening that couldn’t happen—a fact that always makes horror films more believable. Briefly, two young kids, boy, 13 (Tyler, played by Ed Oxenbould), and girl, 16, (Rebecca, played by Olivia DeJonge), are sent away to their grandparents’ for a week while their single mother (Kathryn Hahn) goes on a cruise with a new boyfriend. Mom has not spoken with Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and PopPop (Peter McRobbie) for 15 years, and the kids have never met either of them.
After a fairly normal beginning, strange things begin to happen, such as Nana suffering from “sundowning” as part of her apparent dementia and PopPop making mysterious trips to a shed with what appear to be adult diapers. Tyler is greeted by his Nana with a question: “Why are your pants so low?” to which he answers: “I rap,” which he does effectively throughout the film, even in the epilogue that wraps up the action and ties a few plot lines together.
Meanwhile, Loretta (Mom) and Nana won’t talk about each other—Nana goes into convulsions and threatens to kill herself—and both Tyler and Becca keep filming. The whole movie is shot “found footage” style, which, as usual, gets quite tedious, but cleverly enough, Shyamalan gives Becca some literacy in film and even Tyler understands some of the basics so it is less clumsy than usual.
The kids begin to realize, as they tell Mom, “Things are not right here,” and they make plans to escape. Those plans are foiled, of course, and the kids flee their ostensible grandparents as they become increasingly exposed to death and destruction.
There are some memorable film moments, such as when Tyler, interviewing his sister, asks her why she won’t look at herself in mirrors. Becca avoids answering the question during a very slow zoom into a close-up of her conflicted face.
Are there too many gimmick moments and too many twists for you? Maybe, but this is horror, after all, and generally well-handled and paced. The kids are both charmers. Nana and PopPop are scary as hell, even from the beginning. Cameo player Celia Keenan-Bolger, as a former mental patient of the grandparents, is chillingly mysterious, and Hahn is blissfully unaware of the great danger her kids are in. The ultimate plot twist is a little far-fetched, but not as bad as in most horror flicks and it becomes acceptable as the mayhem draws to a close. Certainly not for the grade school set, but kids who have seen grisly horror before will not be too spooked except for the moment when we find out what is in those packages PopPop takes to the shed. That is a gross discovery for any age viewer!
The Transporter Refueled (PG-13) **
I would have given this film three stars for being average until I saw that it was PG-13. For violence, near nudity, sexual suggestion and more violence, I assumed it was R when I saw it. Nevertheless, this is the European version of the shoot-shoot-bang-bang-crash cars genre we have come to adopt here as favorites. The cast is international but not distinguished. Ed Skrein, a participant in “Game of Thrones” for three episodes, is the ostensible hero, Frank Martin, Jr., though it is hard to find a hero in this mess. Ray Stevenson is Frank Martin, Sr., a washed-up secret operative whose main skill is avoiding the mayhem that his son keeps creating. A bunch of leggy model types, most in platinum blond wigs and very short dresses, decorate the set and one of them, Anna (Loan Chabanal), gets to have a sex scene with Frank Jr. while Frank Sr. is otherwise engaged at the time with two of the other girls.
The plot is meaningless and an excuse to have innumerable inane car chases—the police crash all the time, usually into each other—innumerable fight scenes in which Frank always wins, using whatever implements are at hand, or a helpful shot with a pistol by one of the girls. There is a scene in which Frank is seen soaking his hands in ice water—at last, a breath of realism! The most ridiculous fight scene has Frank getting slashed by a knife wielded by one of the baddies. For the rest of the film, his suit is left undisturbed and he never bleeds from the wound!
The winner for best performance has to be the Audi S8 that, in its various paint jobs, keeps triumphing over the odds. All this to get Anna and her friends back home to their families, even though they all had been pimped out by their mothers back home. Love family relationships! Must be a European thing. There are better choices to make, though famed action producer Luc Bresson hopes you can be suckered into yet another shoot ‘em up now that summer is over.